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Culture Talk: Anthropology and Composition Studies Converse 1 

Composition Studies and Culture: Encountering Anthropology 4 

Anthropology for Composition Studies: A Brief Account 11 

Culture Concepts: Building Bridges Between 

Composition and Anthropology 22 

Dimensions of Culture: Working "In" and Working "With" 31 

Notes 37 


Making Composition Studies' Knowledges: 

Theorists and Anti-Theorists 39 

Versions of Student Writers: Ideational and Material 44 

Materiality of Student Writers: Bruce Horner and "The Real" 51 

Ernies and Etics: Viewing and Reviewing 57 

Keeping Things Strange: Distance not Immersion 63 

Notes 71 



Determining Composition Studies: Power and Influence 72 

Re- Writing Student Writers: Toward a Theory of Authorship 80 

Where Are All the Youth?: Student Writers, Authors, and 

Cultural Gaps in Composition Studies 85 

Tipping Our Wands: Composition Studies and the 

Transformation of Youth 1 02 

Notes 1 09 


"Viva, Las Vegas!": Composition Studies and City Planning 113 

Public Pedagogy: Outside of Classroom Spaces 117 

Publish and Perish: Student Writers of Public Texts 134 

Public Eyes and Voices: The Inclusion of Youth 140 

Notes 150 


Into the Maelstrom: Theories and Pedagogies of 

Resistance in Composition 151 

Care, Concern, and Subversion: Resisting the Powers that Be! 155 

Being Critical of Critical Pedagogies: Expanding the 

Disciplinary Conversations 1 62 

The Other College Transcripts: Youth and the Dialectics of Domination 168 

Writing Composition Studies: A Final Look at the 

Construction of the Student Writer 178 

Notes 183 





Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in 
Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy 



Christopher John Keller 
August 2001 

Chair: Sidney I. Dobrin 
Major Department: English 

Those in rhetoric and composition studies have been engaged in theory-practice 
debates for a couple of decades now. That is, compositionists have argued over whether 
the field should be identified by its theoretical endeavors or by its allegiances to teaching 
students how to write. These sorts of debates, however, often complicate and 
problematize the discipline in that they often disregard or misunderstand how student 
writers themselves influence how the field moves, changes, and is identified. In other 
words, by focusing intently upon whether composition studies should be a theoretical or 
pedagogical discipline, compositionists have viewed themselves as solely in positions of 
power that dictate the direction of the field. 

This project examines some of the theories and methodologies of anthropology in 
order to question the ways that the discipline of composition studies is affected, 
influenced, and changed. In particular, the dissertation appropriates the theories of 
anthropologist Adam Kuper, who suggests that we should not look to codify culture or 



try to envision culture holistically. Instead, we should try to disaggregate the pieces of 
culture and see how they affect each other, the processes by which cultural components 
relate to one another. With this anthropological prompt, the dissertation attempts to 
disaggregate the various pieces of composition studies, to break it apart, and to no longer 
see it as a disciplinary whole with strict boundaries. This, the dissertation contends, will 
allow us to debunk the notion that composition teachers and scholars solely determine the 
discipline and help us recognize the other factors and influences that shape composition 
studies, particularly the various positions of student writers themselves. 

In particular, the dissertation investigates student writers, youth, public spheres, 
and concepts of resistance as "cultural pieces" that have important relationships with one 
another for composition studies. These are by no means the only components that could 
be disaggregated but are pieces that have great importance for the field today. Studying 
these components not only demonstrates how compositionists should not try to construct 
boundaries around composition studies but also manifests the diverse and numerous 
forces that serve to construct disciplinary knowledges and practices, therein showing how 
compositionists are not the only proprietors and actors of disciplinary thought and 
recognizing the other forces and factors that build and mark of the status and identity of 
the field. 


Culture Talk: Anthropology and Composition Studies Converse 

/ don 't know how many times I 've wished that I 'd never heard the damned word. 

—Raymond Williams 

Raymond Williams's frustration with the term "culture" is well understood by 
those whose academic work has centered on this concept — this word. ' However, the 
aggravations associated with the word culture have not slowed down the ever-increasing 
production of texts that deal with culture in its almost incalculable versions and 
definitions. "Culture," Marshall Sahlins observes, "is on everyone's lips" (3). Sahlins is 
referring to the various and diverse peoples of the world: "Tibetans and Hawaiians, 
Ojibway, Kwakiutl, and Eskimo, Kazakhs and Mongols, native Australians, Balinese, 
Kashmiris, and New Zealand Maori: all discover they have a 'culture'" (4). 
Culture — once the province of anthropologists studying other peoples — has become a 
term of interest and debate to those who themselves were long the objects of cultural 
study, to those who now have some say in all this "culture talk," as Sahlins notes. 
However, all of this chatter about culture — or the war over "culture," as some might see 
it — has spread well beyond the academic territory of anthropologists. Disciplines in the 
arts, humanities, social sciences, and even the hard sciences all have their various ways of 

defining culture, using culture, applying culture, approaching culture, dissecting culture, 
and connecting culture to other disciplinary conversations, social formations, and 
institutional contexts. In the academy, one might say, culture is on everyone's lips and 
on the ends of everyone's pens. This, however, is not by any means a new occurrence. 

I cannot even begin to provide a complete history of the study of "culture" that 
has taken place in various disciplinary writings and conversations, nor is this necessary 
for my purpose at hand, which is more specific and less comprehensive. Culture, this is 
to say, is a complex and uncodifiable concept that stretches among academic disciplines 
and the popular media, for instance. I wish here, however, to examine the relationships 
between two areas of disciplinary thought that have had some minor overlap in the past: 
anthropology and composition studies. Each of these disciplines in its own way studies 
something called "culture," though there is no one statement that can adequately 
characterize the ways in which these disciplines involve themselves with culture or define 
themselves as "cultural." In particular, though, I am troubled by composition studies' use 
and understanding of the term "culture" when made in reference to anthropology and 
ethnography; I refer specifically to the ways in which the word is often flung around in 
disciplinary jargon without much discussion of the term's various historical and 
disciplinary nuances and subtleties. That is, composition studies rarely provides enough 
terminological attention and scrupulousness to its discussions of "culture," particularly as 
the term is used in connection with anthropological and ethnographical discourses. 

I do not wish, however, simply to look for overlap between anthropology and 
composition studies, to understand the ways in which these two disciplines are similar or 
the ways in which they share methodologies and approaches to the study of culture. In 

other words, I do not want to make parallels between two disciplines that on the surface 
seem only to have a few things in common. Instead, I want to show that composition 
studies is a field not only that examines how cultural meanings are produced through 
discursive production but also that composition studies itself is involved in certain 
cultural practices and processes, a discipline whose meanings and practices can be 
examined with more clarity by submitting them to specific kinds of anthropological study 
and critique. My purpose in this, however, is not to prove that composition studies is just 
another kind of culture — one more to add to the list of many; that is, I do not wish to 
make such awkward claims and then do nothing more than attempt to prove the veracity 
of these statements by showing the differences between a "culture" and an academic 
discipline (though this may be necessary to some degree). That is, I do not merely hope 
to construct some type of "culture" of composition, pull it apart, analyze its components, 
and somehow sew it all back together, therein doing little more than analyzing parts and 
providing a structural, ahistorical, and apolitical analysis. My argument about 
composition studies proposes instead that to acknowledge composition studies as 
something of a culture — as something that functions culturally and can be examined 
through certain types of cultural analyses — provides not only a new understanding of 
what the discipline means and how it functions but also, at a more "practical" level, how 
compositionists may approach, observe, represent, and teach students how to write — 
students who themselves participate in various cultures. Before getting into this 
specifically, however, some background about both composition studies and 
anthropology is necessary in order to come to a more specific understanding of how 
terms such as "culture" and "anthropology" will be used in this project, both of which 

have been historically problematic, complex, contentious, and ambiguous. A more 
specific understanding of culture — seen through anthropological lenses — will help 
compositionists investigate the complexities and dilemmas of their own disciplinary 
meanings and practices. 

Composition Studies and Culture: Encountering Anthropology 

As a discipline that works specifically with students and their writing, 
composition studies has in some sense always been interested (often implicitly) in 
ethnographical questions. That is, compositionists have long been involved in work that 
figures out ways to teach writing to students by investigating — often through empirical 
methodologies — students' personal traits as well as their social and cultural backgrounds. 
At the turn of the century, for instance, freshman composition began at Harvard in order 
to meet the "needs" of those less economically-privileged (and therefore less 
"academically-prepared") students who began filtering in Harvard's doors, students who, 
Susan Miller notes, "took on 'dirty' associations that the nonelect, nonpredestined student 
could embody. . . . Composition . . . focused on (while its new handbooks simultaneously 
formed) correct written vernacular language, as a matter of politeness and good breeding" 
{Textual 55). In recent years, compositionists have debated the potential for ethnography 
to deliver more detailed data that uncover greater understandings of those students who 
sit in composition classrooms and produce written documents. Ralph Cintron believes, 
"For writing researchers . . . ethnography seems both puzzling and enchanting — puzzling 
because its methodology is difficult to standardize and enchanting because the profession 
has sensed ethnography's potential for delivering new kinds of data and for providing 
answers that are otherwise elusive" (378). Cintron is, perhaps, correct in his assertion 


that ethnography provides composition studies with the potential for numerous new 

forms of knowledge about students and the discipline itself I would like, however, to 

take a closer look at both the productive and unproductive ways in which compositionists 

have taken up this preoccupation with ethnography, anthropology, and culture, and I hope 

to look more closely at the status of this knowledge that is being produced in composition 


Voices & Visions: Refiguring Ethnography in Composition is one of the few 

recent collections that is devoted specifically to intersections among composition studies, 

ethnography, and anthropology. The editors of this collection suggest that its authors 

seek to answer the following questions: 

What is unique about how compositionists conduct ethnography? Should 
positivism or postpositivism inform the authority of ethnography? To 
what extent should ethnographies be about the ethnographer, the research 
community, or the surrounding community? To what extent should an 
ethnographer act as a cultural worker or an objective scientist? How can 
ethnographers "tell the truth" when doing so reflects negatively on the 
communities or when they can they cannot get respondents' written 
permission to be published? (Kirklighter, Vincent, and Moxley viii) 

These five questions begin to address the ways in which ethnography itself relates to the 

study of culture — but perhaps only tangentially at that. This is not to suggest that 

composition studies' use of ethnography must align itself closely and tightly with various 

anthropologists' use of ethnography as a method for studying "other" cultures; however, 

the above questions are posed to find ways that ethnography is "used," but they do not 

make clear the ends to which it is used. In other words, how can compositionists ask 

questions about how to conduct ethnography, the authority of ethnographic texts, the role 

of the ethnographer, and the situation of students in the classroom and in ethnographies 

before they ask questions about the roles ethnography and anthropology will play in the 

discipline of composition studies as well as questions about the cultural situation of 
ethnography itself both inside and outside of composition studies? The questions posed 
by the editors of Voices & Visions appear to address some of the practical — nuts and 
bolts — aspects of ethnography but fail to take into consideration how ethnography is 
placed within composition studies as well as how ethnography gets at larger cultural and 
institutional questions about how composition studies functions and makes its meanings 
and practices. 

In "Describing the Cultures of the Classroom: Problems in Classroom 
Ethnography," one essay in the Voices & Visions Collection, Kay Losey relates a past 
recognition that the composition classroom is not a single community, that "the 
classroom was composed of a number of smaller communities, each with its own culture. 
Obviously, there were teachers and students. There were also men and women. There 
were Mexican-Americans, Anglo-Americans, Portuguese- Americans, Asian-Americans. 
. . . The classroom I studied had a number of different communities with a number of 
different perspectives" (86). In addition to Losey 's problematic conflation of the terms 
"culture" and "community" throughout the essay, her ethnography of various classroom 
"cultures" reduces one's "culture" to one's racial background or gender, which posits that 
ethnography serves composition as a methodology to get at cultural identities that were 
formed outside of the composition classroom itself. In suggesting that a composition 
classroom is made up of many different "cultures," as indicated by the diverse racial 
make-up of this classroom under discussion, Losey implies that cultural identities in the 
classroom are rooted in some preexisting difference — of race or gender. This perspective 
supposedly affords compositionists the opportunity to view the classroom as a space 

where various cultures meet — or make "contact" to use Mary Louise Pratt's phrase — but 
such an understanding of "classroom cultures," consequently, neutralizes the composition 
classroom itself, posits it as a space in which cultural discourses, meanings, practices, and 
knowledges circulate but are made elsewhere. Losey's classroom may appear 
"multicultural," but one must remember, first of all, that "cultures are the result of a 
mishmash, borrowings, mixtures that have occurred, though at different rates, ever since 
the beginning of time. . . . Diversity is less a function of the isolation of groups than of 
the relationships which unite them" (Levi-Strauss 243). Second, and perhaps more 
crucial, the composition classroom is not merely an arena for ethnographers to examine 
"culturally-defined" students who have gathered to produce writings and express 
themselves; it is not a forum or space that is devoid of its own cultural values, meanings, 
histories, beliefs, and materiality; it is not, in other words, simply a space that brings to 
the forefront issues and identities that exist outside of composition studies itself. The 
composition classroom, that is, is a space that exerts its own cultural and institutional 
impacts upon student writers. 

Losey also contends that "Although anthropology, like sociology, addresses the 
ways of a group of people, it is important to remember that groups are composed of 
individuals who are as various as they are many. We should not assume that the 
perspectives of most students or several students are the same or that all students have a 
single perspective" (90). Composition teachers will no doubt classify students in certain 
ways, perhaps as "hard-working," "lazy," "talkative," "brilliant," or whatever; however, 
I do not think any teacher or theorist of writing would purposely assert that all students 
share a single perspective — though many students, of course, do hold similar views and 


perspectives. If we do escape this problem of a singular perspective, however, and, 
according to Losey, "allow for the presentation of multiple perspectives," (94) what does 
this tell us about composition studies or student writers? In this rhetorical paradigm, we 
are shown that students are dissimilar in their perspectives — they are people who enter 
the classroom from various ethnic and economic backgrounds and communities — and 
that we as teachers/researchers of writing should avoid the pitfalls of singular 
perspectives because we must be aware that we are actually observing the "real-life 
communities" (94) of students as they exist in the spaces of the classroom itself. Losey is 
correct that problems arise when multiple "cultures" come together and that such 
problems cannot necessarily be solved with single solutions. However, her viewpoints 
and arguments about the relevance of a "postmodern" ethnography for compositionists 
are actually detached from any understanding of composition studies to begin with. This 
is to say, Losey's postmodern polemic about the need to recognize and observe multiple 
"communities" — used synonymously with "cultures" — in the classroom sheds little if any 
light on the composition classroom itself, the ways in which these multiple perspectives 
are negotiated and expressed specifically in and through writing pedagogies. One may 
well wonder how this approach to observing the composition classroom is any different 
from observing one's neighbors, friends, co-workers, or fellow passengers on an airplane. 
We all wish to find and give meaning to our observations — written or not — but 
recognizing the ethnographer's representational dilemmas provides compositionists with 
little to go on unless there is some acknowledgment of the ways in which composition 
studies itself provides a larger, complex framework of cultural meanings and questions in 
which one begins ethnographic and anthropological studies in the first place. 

Kristi Yager's "Composition's Appropriation of Ethnographic Authority," also 
included in the Voices & Visions collection, suggests the following about critical 
anthropology: "Represented by such theorists as James Clifford, Clifford Geertz, Mary 
Louise Pratt, and Renato Rosaldo, critical anthropologists examine the discursive 
elements of ethnographic methodology to discover the underlying assumptions of a given 
ethnographer's work" (37). Like a number of other compositionists who invoke 
anthropology to answer questions about culture, textual authority, ethnography, and 
representation, for instance, Yager presents a very small, selective group of 
anthropologists who speak to compositionists about what anthropology does and how it 
may be used in composition studies. Yager, for example, discusses critical anthropology 
as an area of anthropology which "seek[s] to uncover the power-knowledge relationships 
that structure and determine a given author's meaning" (37); however, generalizations 
such as these fail to take into account the larger frameworks and contexts in which 
something called "critical anthropology" arose and functions. Critical anthropology, for 
instance, does have ties to the Frankfurt School's concepts of "critical theory"; simply 
stating this single connection, however, is a gross oversimplification of this strand of 
anthropological thought. Critical anthropology has roots that go back to the 1 920s when 
anthropologists began using cross-cultural perspectives in order to critique their own 
societies, particularly the mass, liberal bourgeois societies facilitated by industrial 
capitalism. Anthropologists then participated in public debates about issues involving, 
for example, immigration, educational reform, crime, and family life. Anthropologists 
such as Margaret Mead (1928), Bronislaw Malinowski (1926), Franz Boas (1928), and 
Robert Redfield ( 1 947), just to name a few, sought not only to inform their own societies 


about others' ways of life but also to challenge their own societies' cultural 
assumptions — those meanings, values, practices, and beliefs that people (habitually) take 
for granted. 

Critical anthropology also rests in a larger tradition of Marxism and materialist- 
oriented criticism, which led eventually to another branch of anthropology known as 
"cultural materialism," and in the 1960s critical anthropology helped inspire other 
movements such as British Marxist historiography and cultural studies, as well as 
supplementations by postmodern theorists in the 1980s, in which questions arose about 
such things as the flexibility of cultural forms, hegemonic cultural structures, the 
pervasiveness of power, and the changing locations of knowledge production. Moreover, 
critical anthropology recognized that earlier anthropological texts and theories were used 
as tools of imperialism, therein making many racist and primitivist assumptions about the 
peoples it studied. 3 All of this is an excessively brief account of critical anthropology; 
however, my point here is not to correct or supplement Yager's version of critical 
anthropology. Instead, I attempt to critique the ways in which anthropology has been 
introduced to composition studies, the ways in which anthropologists and other scholars 
interested in anthropology such as Clifford Geertz, Renato Rosaldo, James Clifford, and 
Mary Louise Pratt have been ushered into composition studies as figures who are 
representative of anthropology as a whole rather than as a very small, specialized slice of 
a much larger area of disciplinary thought. Yager, in addition, though correct that 
subjectivity and objectivity are central theoretical issues in anthropology, suggests that 
"subjectivity" and "objectivity" — operating as polarities— have "little value for 
humanistic inquiry such as anthropology or composition studies" (my emphasis; 38). 


Even Clifford Geertz, despite his sympathies for the connections between anthropology 
and the humanities, would probably discourage the notion that he is not involved in some 
sort of "scientific" pursuit. This is to say, listing three or four anthropologists who pose 
questions about authorship, representation, rhetoric, and interpretation by no means 
makes anthropology a "humanistic" discipline; one may well wonder the extent to which 
composition studies itself is or is not "humanistic." 

I have by no means covered the entire range of texts in composition studies that 
take up issues of ethnography and anthropology. Instead, I have attempted to cite from a 
few texts that I see as problematically representative of composition's use and 
understanding of anthropology and ethnography. This chapter, as well as this project as a 
whole, attempts to provide a more thorough and detailed account of some of the 
anthropological theories that are commonly referenced in composition studies, not simply 
to pinpoint the inaccuracies and oversimplifications of anthropology and ethnography as 
used by compositionists but to show the depth with which anthropology can help 
composition studies come to a greater understanding of its own meanings and practices — 
its identity — and the ways these relate to and affect student writers. 

Anthropology for Composition Studies: A Brief Account 

The writings of Clifford Geertz are the best known, most quoted, and most 
influential anthropological texts that have made their way into composition studies. 
Consequently, I would like to provide a more thorough examination of Clifford Geertz's 
work — as well as the work of a few other anthropologists — in order to give an initial, yet 
brief, and critical background of anthropological writings that have proved themselves 
important and significant in composition studies. 


Geertz studied anthropology at the (multi-disciplinary) Social Relations 
Department at Harvard in the 1 950s — a department, headed by Talcott Parsons, which 
sought to bring together the work of Max Weber and Emile Durkheim in order to 
formulate a systematic type of American sociology. Parsons's theories of "social action" 
classified the "objective world" as having three components: social, physical, and 
cultural. These three systems interacted in order to govern the choices all human "actors" 
had to make. In Parsons's system, "culture" was the term which covered the realm of 
ideas and values, as mediated in the form of symbols. In The Social System, he suggests, 
"Cultural objects are symbolic elements of the cultural tradition, ideas or beliefs, 
expressive symbols or value patterns" (4). Culture does not function by itself but only 
within the larger system of "action" — a system which, according to Parsons, needed a 
precise and limited definition of culture that could be approached scientifically. 4 In the 
1 950s, Geertz (along with David Schneider) became a representative figure of Parsonian 
American anthropology; however, it did not take long before Geertz (and Schneider) 
began to question the Parsonian notion that cultural anthropology merely served a larger 
project, that the study of culture was only apiece of a larger theory of social action which 
sought to establish laws, norms, and patterns of culture. Geertz eventually began to 
theorize culture as an autonomous system that could be investigated in its own right and 
for its own sake, and he contended that anthropology should be seen as endeavor that 
focuses on the investigation of symbols and meanings, therein centering on interpretation 
rather than scientific discovery. 5 In The Interpretation of Cultures, for example, he wrote 
that there was "an enormous increase in interest, not only in anthropology, but in social 
studies generally, in the role of symbolic forms in human life. Meaning, that elusive and 


ill-defined pseudoentity we were once more than content to leave to philosophers and 
literary critics to fumble with, has come back into the heart of our discipline" (29). 
Geertz tries to move anthropology toward the study of symbols and away from the 
material and empirical. 

Renato Rosaldo once dubbed Clifford Geertz the "ambassador of anthropology." 
This is to say, despite the numerous harsh criticisms directed at Geertz's work from 
within anthropology (criticisms that will be explored more in chapter two), his influence 
outside of his home discipline has been less caustic, more accepted, and, perhaps, much 
more widespread. Geertz has written prolifically over the last half century, though his 
most influential and most often cited ideas derive from The Interpretation of Cultures 
( 1 973), Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology ( 1 983), and 
Works and Lives: The Anthropologist as Author ( 1 988). The popularity of these works, 
however, tends to overshadow his other writings, including those that stemmed more 
directly from his fieldwork and narrow cultural analyses: for instance, The Religion of 
Java (1960), Agricultural Innovation: The Process of Ecological Change in Indonesia 
( 1 963), Peddlers and Princes: Social Change and Economic Modernization in Two 
Indonesian Towns (1963), Islam Observed: Religious Development in Morocco and 
Indonesia ( 1 968), and Negara: The Theater State in Nineteenth-Century Bali ( 1 980). 
Although I cannot do justice to the depth and complexity of Geertz's oeuvre in this 
summary, I would like to discuss a couple of his main suppositions about anthropology, 
ethnography, and culture that have not only influenced but helped re-shape the 
humanities and social sciences in general and composition studies in particular. 


The basis of Geertz's "interpretive," or "symbolic," anthropology is that an 
analysis of culture 

comes down therefore not to an heroic "holistic" assault upon the basic 
configurations of the culture, an overarching "order of orders" from which 
more limited configurations can be seen as mere deductions, but to a 
searching out of significant symbols, and clusters of clusters of significant 
symbols — the material vehicles of perception, emotion, and 
understanding — and the statement of the underlying regularities of human 
experience implicit in their formation. (Interpretation 408) 

Geertz's interpretive anthropology reacted to the statistical, behaviorist, and formalist- 
linguistic studies of human societies and cultures. Positing theories that viewed cultures 
as texts, this form of anthropology initially suggested that anthropologists, like the native 
"actors" themselves, read the various meanings within cultures; that is, the social actions 
of natives left behind vestiges of meaning that anthropologists could read like texts. 
Interpretive anthropology, then, sought to provide an understanding of other cultures 
from the inside; however, these understandings were not meant to be static. Geertz's 
brand of anthropology maintained that meanings are actively negotiated, that symbols 
both decay and grow, and that culture can be read and interpreted with the help of 
language's metaphoricity. 6 Interpretive anthropologists, however, have often been 
criticized for their tendencies to see meanings wherever and in whatever fashion they 
wish, without having any objective methods or evaluative criteria. 

Geertz's cultural analysis proceeds by reading a people's culture as if it were "an 
ensemble of texts" (Interpretation 448); this type of analysis, then, seeks not to discover 
how social and cultural systems operate but what social and cultural discourses, 
institutions, and practices mean — a sort of cultural hermeneutics. Geertz's notion of 
"thick description," a term borrowed from Gilbert Ryle, is a type of ethnography that 


reads and interprets a culture-as-text in order to make a culture's meanings 
comprehensible to others. This process is necessary, Geertz says, because "Doing 
anthropology is like trying to read (in the sense of construct a reading of) a 
manuscript — foreign, faded, full of ellipses, incoherencies, suspicious emendations, and 
tendentious commentaries, but written not in conventionalized graphs of sound but in 
transient examples of shaped behavior" (Interpretation 10). "Thick description," 
consequently, is also a form of translation and inscription. The ethnographer, according 
to Geertz, "inscribes" social discourse: "he writes it down. In so doing, he turns it from a 
passing event, which exists only in its own moment of occurrence, into an account, which 
exists in its inscriptions and can be reconsulted" (Geertz's emphases; Interpretation 19). 
Critics have been concerned with this mode of anthropology because its basic concepts — 
"meaning," "translation," and "construct," for instance — are unclear and ill-defined. That 
is, one's ability to construct a reading or interpretation is severely limited simply because 
the connotations surrounding terms such as "interpretation" and "meaning" are 
themselves muddled and unclear. In other words, many are uncomfortable with 
anthropological methods that are grounded in "guesswork," interpretations negotiated in 
the absence of some form of (scientific) validation. 7 In addition, Geertz's work has been 
problematic to critics for its notion that cultures can be equated with texts and that 
symbols and superstructures are more significant than material conditions and 
structures — these problems I shall discuss further in chapter two. 

Geertz's work derives in large part from studies in hermeneutics, semiotics, 
psychoanalysis, and textual criticism, and it is more diverse and complex than I have 
shown here. This summary of Geertz's interpretive anthropology, however, is meant less 


as an attempt to provide a thorough and fastidious account of his writings than it is an 
attempt to show the appeal that interpretive anthropology provides to numerous 
disciplines in the social sciences and humanities, and particularly appealing to 
composition studies as a discipline that holds great interest in the supposition that 
cultures can be written and read like texts. Geertz's writings, furthermore, led the way 
for a number of anthropologists in the 1970s and 80s who championed postmodern 
perspectives. Although Geertz himself is rarely defined as a "postmodernist," his 
insistence on interpretation as the basis of anthropological writing — as opposed to 
empirical and objective validation — paved the ways for anthropologists such as Paul 
Rabinow, Vincent Crapazano, George Marcus, Michael Fischer, Renato Rosaldo, and 
Victor Turner, all of whom reject a science of anthropology because of its empirical 

Texts such as Geertz's The Interpretation of Cultures, Local Knowledge, and 
Works and Lives have figured somewhat prominently in studies by compositionists who 
examine relationships between anthropology and composition studies. Nonetheless, 
other anthropological writings have influenced the shape of composition studies too. In 
order to provide a more thorough account of anthropologists whose presences have been 
felt in composition studies, I would also like to take a look at the works of James 
Clifford — most notably, his The Predicament of Culture. Clifford teaches in the History 
of Consciousness Program at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Though Clifford 
is not an anthropologist, he considers himself a "historian and critic of anthropology" 
(289). Much of Clifford's writing centers on the notion that cultures and identities are 
always changing, always in flux, and must be historicized. In particular, Clifford asks a 


number of questions about the ways in which culture gets written: "Who has the 

authority to speak for a group's identity or authenticity? What are the essential elements 

and boundaries of a culture? How do self and other clash and converse in the encounters 

of ethnography, travel, modern interethnic relations? What narratives of development, 

loss, and innovation can account for the present range of oppositional movements" (8). 

Clifford explains culture's "predicament": 

Ultimately my topic is a pervasive condition of off-centeredness in a 
world of distinct meaning systems, a state of being in culture while 
looking at culture, a form of personal and collective self- fashioning. This 
predicament — not limited to scholars, writers, artists, or intellectuals — 
responds to the twentieth century's unprecedented overlay of traditions. A 
modern "ethnography" of conjunctures, constantly moving between 
cultures, does not, like its Western alter ego "anthropology," aspire to 
survey the full range of human diversity or development. It is perpetually 
displaced, both regionally focused and broadly comparative, a form of 
both dwelling and of travel in a world where the two experiences are less 
and less distinct. (9) 

Clifford abandons any belief in cultural wholes that have rigid boundaries, ones that can 

be marked off and easily categorized. Ethnography is in a state of crisis, then, according 

to Clifford, because it is itself a cultural invention rather than a transparent mode of 

documentation; it is an activity that "appears as writing, as collecting, as modernist 

collage, as imperial power, as subversive critique" (13). This is all to say, ethnographers 

fashion their subjects and objects of analysis in order to persuade readers, and 

one must bear in mind the fact that ethnography is, from beginning to end, 
enmeshed in writing. This writing includes, minimally, a translation of 
experience into textual form. The process is complicated by the action of 
multiple subjectivities and political constraints beyond the control of the 
writer. In response to these forces ethnographic writing enacts a specific 
strategy of authority. (25) 

In short, much of Clifford's work is interested in examining how writers of ethnographies 

evoke authority in their writings: "Experiential, interpretive, dialogical, and polyphonic 


processes are at work, discordantly, in any ethnography, but coherent presentation 
presupposes a controlling mode of authority. . . . If ethnographic writing is alive, as I 
believe it is, it is struggling within and against these possibilities" (54). Clifford's 
interest in the ways anthropologists produce texts provides an avenue for overlap between 
composition studies and anthropology. 

In The Predicament of Culture, this is all to say, James Clifford treats 
ethnography as a literary genre. Whether he discusses the problems of "representation" 
and "poetics" in Bronislaw Malinowski's Argonauts of the Western Pacific, identity 
formation and narration in Michel Leiris's L 'Afrique fantome, or metaphoric structure in 
Marcel Griaule's Methode de I'ethnographie, Clifford is interested in ethnography as a 
form of writing. That is, he is less interested in what ethnographers and anthropologists 
believe they have found out than in their authorial processes and imaginations. 
Consequently, Clifford's interest in the ways that peoples and cultures — if there is such a 
thing — are rhetorically fashioned as well his interest in the writing processes of 
ethnographers are no doubt part of (this type of) anthropology's appeal to composition 

James Clifford, furthermore, edited (with George Marcus) an influential 
collection of essays entitled Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. 
This collection stems from a seminar in which numerous anthropologists and literary 
theorists participated. The contributors to this volume differ in their critical perspectives, 
including, for instance, literary theory, cultural translation, Marxism, postcolonial theory, 
and world system theory. However, they all tend to emphasize the importance of 
studying acts of writing in anthropological and ethnographic texts. George Marcus 


asserts that the task of the Writing Culture seminar was "to introduce a literary 
consciousness to ethnographic practice by showing various ways in which ethnographies 
can be read and written" (262). Writing Culture responds to the ideas and images of the 
classical ethnographer, he or she who is represented as a detached, scientific observer — 
an individual who enters a new, exotic cultural realm and reports cultural facts in 
unbiased, objective prose. Contributors to the W?iting Culture collection attempt to show 
the illusion of this image and argue that ethnographers write "fictions." Furthermore, 
they suggest, these ethnographers are merely engaging in rhetorical "tricks" of 
authorship, therein imposing order on the multiple and chaotic perspectives and voices 
they encountered in their fieldwork. Moreover, they argue that Hue fictions produced by 
classical ethnographers served colonizing projects which sought to implement order and 
stability upon colonial subjects abroad. 

It is difficult to summarize the eleven essays in Writing Culture in this brief 
account without essentializing them; one might safely say, however, that the contributors 
to this collection all argue that there should not be any privileged perspectives in 
ethnographic narratives. That is, the ethnographer no longer oversees culture with 
omniscience; instead, ethnographers should try new writing practices that include a 
variety of voices and perspectives that are never allowed to remain static. Writers of 
ethnographic texts are expected to usher in a form "postmodern anthropology" in which 
peoples and their ways of life are never essentialized and never presented with 
boundaries — all cultures, this is to say, are in movement. "Culture," James Clifford 
writes, "is contested, temporal, and emergent" {Writing 19). The Writing Culture 
contributors created a new movement which sought to render obsolete these old — 


empirical and fact based — writing practices. Clifford suggests that the Writing Culture 

team is positing a "historical and theoretical movement" that will 

dislodge the ground from which persons and groups securely represent 
others. A conceptual shift, "tectonic" in its implications, has taken place. 
We ground things now on a moving earth. There is no longer any place of 
overview (mountaintop) from which to map human ways of life, no 
Archimedian point form which to represent the world. Mountains are in 
constant motion. So are islands: for one cannot occupy unambiguously, a 
bounded cultural world from which to journey out and analyze other 
cultures. Human ways of life increasingly influence, dominate, parody, 
translate, and subvert one another. Cultural analysis is always enmeshed 
in global movements of difference and power. However one defines it, 
and the phrase is here used loosely, a "world system" now links the 
planets societies in a common historical process. (Writing 22) 

Writing Culture attempts to open a theoretical rift between a past, objective, and 
scientific anthropology and a new, postmodern anthropology rooted in experimentation, 
fragmentation, irony, subversion, polyvocality, and critique of Western thought and 
assumptions. The heavy emphases on rhetorical fashioning of cultures and peoples as 
well as the emphases these contributors place on the roles of authorship in ethnographic 
texts seem to have made postmodern anthropology particularly important and exciting to 

I have provided only a brief background of anthropological works that have 
influenced composition studies. There are, without a doubt, many more; however, I 
discussed texts by Clifford Geertz and James Clifford primarily because they, more than 
any others, have played the role of anthropology's "ambassadors" to composition studies. 
Anthropologists who have influenced composition studies have often done so by 
expressing an interest in examining questions of writing, rhetoric, and authorship. Gary 
Olson suggests that "Perhaps it is Geertz's preoccupation with seeing science and 
scholarship as rhetorical, as socially constructed, that makes his work so eminently 


appealing to many of us in rhetoric and composition" (245). Matthew Wilson, in 
addition, uses James Clifford's ideas about "ethnographic authority" to argue that "Our 
students are like the traditional ethnographer in valuing integration over ambiguity and 
diversity, in separating the 'research process' from the text, and in their inability to see 
the relevance of the 'dialogical [and] situational aspects of . . . interpretation" (252). 
Furthermore, Michael Kleine adopts Clifford Geertz's interpretive anthropology as a 
basis to claim that compositionists "have not subjected ethnographic practice and 
discourse to the kind of radical critique that would allow it to become — and seem — what 
it actually is: an act of social construction performed in relationship to other acts of social 
construction" (121). Anthropologists' inquiries into the realms of writing and rhetoric 
have allowed the discipline to become more self-reflexive and, furthermore, have allowed 
compositionists to begin making interdisciplinary connections with anthropological 
theories and methodologies, which has greatly enhanced compositions' understanding of 
ethnographic practices as well as relationships between students and teachers. However, 
by investigating mainly those anthropologists who are concerned with issues involving 
rhetoric, authorship, and textual construction, compositionists have typically only 
touched upon a small contingent of anthropologists and anthropological thought. That is, 
compositionists have tended to see as important and influential only those anthropologists 
who are aware of certain problems and issues that compositionists themselves confront: 
for instance, objectivity, textual construction, hermeneutics, writing, and rhetoric. This, 
in short, has isolated a great number of other anthropological theories and methodologies 
that might help compositionists better understand their own disciplinary theories and 


Culture Concepts: Building Bridges Between Composition and Anthropology 

Composition studies has held important and critically useful conversations with 
anthropology about the complexities and problems of writing "others" into texts — that is, 
rhetoric and representation are inseparable when it comes to textual construction in 
ethnography. 1 would like, however, to begin building more bridges between 
composition studies and anthropology. In other words, examinations of rhetoric and 
writerly practices have kept composition and anthropology conversant for the last couple 
of decades, but more intricate and complex analyses of culture concepts should provide 
larger plots of interdisciplinary ground for compositionists to examine anthropological 
thought and practice and build from them. I would like, however, to look first at how 
many compositionists already approach "culture" through cultural studies theories and 

Cultural studies is no more reducible to a few sentences than anthropology; 

however, one might reasonably assert in a few words that cultural studies is comprised of 

both academic and political pursuits merging to combat the hegemonic powers of ruling 

classes and dominant discourses. According to John Storey, 

"Culture" in cultural studies is defined politically [not] aesthetically 

culture [is not] ... a process of aesthetic, intellectual, and spiritual 
development; but culture [is] understood as the texts and practices of 

everyday life Cultural studies also regards culture as political in a 

quite specific sense — as a terrain of conflict and contestation culture 

is a terrain on which there takes place a continual struggle over meaning, 
in which subordinate groups attempt to resist the imposition of meanings 
which bear the interests of dominant groups. {Popular 2-3) 

Although this is merely one overview of what cultural studies is and what it does — other 

scholars and critics certainly have room to disagree here — one might use Storey's 


identification of cultural studies as a method of political "contestation" and "struggle" to 

begin understanding how compositionists have sought to incorporate such methodologies 

in writing classrooms. To connect cultural studies and composition studies is to assume 

that one's pedagogy and one's theory have political consequences and that teaching is 

never politically neutral. James Berlin, for instance, suggests that "Our effort [as 

compositionists] is to make students aware of the various cultural codes — the various 

competing discourses — that attempt to influence who they are. Our larger purpose is to 

encourage our students to resist and negotiate these codes — these hegemonic 

discourses — in order to bring about more personally humane and socially equitable 

economic and political arrangements" (50). Similarly, Henry Giroux argues that 

"Cultural studies theorists must grasp the importance of pedagogy as a mode of cultural 

criticism, useful for questioning the very conditions under which knowledge, values, and 

social identities are produced, appropriated and often challenged" (Fugitive 1 9). 

Furthermore, Raymond A. Mazurek suggests that 

Cultural studies provides some resolution to the dilemmas radical teachers 
like myself sometimes experience regarding sharing their political 
viewpoints with students. For if the focus of the course is on "rhetoric" in 
the broadest sense — on the social processes and conflicts which produce 
ideas and discourses — rather than on specific issues perceived only as 
"content" to be written about, then the instructor's views do not seem as 
individual, odd, or intrusive. ( 1 87) 

Compositionists and educators such as Berlin, Giroux, and Mazurek emphasize the 

classroom as a space in which critical and political intervention may take place, a space 

in which students may analyze cultural texts, contexts, and social relations in order to 

understand better the workings of power, discourses, and their own positions in the 

world— particularly their positions as writers. Cultural studies, in short, has had an 


important and influential position in composition studies, particularly because of the way 

it asks students and teachers to investigate the conditions in which discourse is produced, 

to struggle over meaning, and to seek "liberating effects" in the production and analyses 

of various discourses. However, cultural studies approaches, both inside and outside of 

composition studies, are not without their critics. Stefan Collini, for instance, in a review 

of Lawrence Grossberg, Cary Nelson, and Paul Treichler's influential anthology Cultural 

Studies, remarks that 

The suspicion is that most forms of cultural activity are essentially a 
disguise for the fact that Somebody is Trying to Screw Somebody Else . . . 
Hardly a page of this fat volume goes by without our being told that 
somebody who possesses some kind of power ... is trying to "dominate," 
"suppress," "occlude," "mystify," "exploit," "marginalise" . . . someone 
else, and in response it is the duty of those engaged in Cultural Studies to 
"subvert," "unmask," "contest," "de-legitimize," "intervene," "struggle 
against." (457) 

Collini's frustration with cultural studies — like a number of other scholars and critics — 

stems from his view that cultural studies produces pessimism because of its dogmatic 

notions that power is always dominating and oppressive and used negatively to "screw" 

people who are in subservient positions. Collini implicitly, it seems, questions whether 

culture is always a battleground between the strong and the weak, the oppressors and the 

oppressed. Critiques such as Collini's are in many ways applicable to composition 

studies' usages of cultural studies. 8 In particular, when educators and compositionists 

such as Giroux, Berlin, and Mazurek discuss how students can "subvert" dominant 

educational paradigms, "contest" discourses that try to influence who they are, or 

"struggle" against or "resist" hegemonic powers and discourses, for instance, students are 

necessarily placed in positions against dominant powers and values — always positioned 

with the exploited, marginalized, and powerless. Consequently, theories and pedagogies 



of writing that derive from these kinds of cultural studies perspectives often begin with 
assumptions about what students lack and what they do not have, rather than from an 
investigation of the positions of power that students already occupy and from any 
understanding of the cultural criticisms and perspectives that students already possess. 
This is to say, within the frameworks of many cultural studies pedagogies and theories in 
composition studies, students are constructed as the marginalized and dominated others, 
those whose goal in the composition classroom should be liberation from or contestation 
against the various forms of oppression working against them and others. 

Proponents of cultural studies in the composition classroom also are at risk of 
criticism by those who suggest that such theories and pedagogies focus too intently on the 
interpretation of texts rather than the production of them, that, according to Susan Miller, 
"By teaching texts rather than their making, by teaching awareness rather than rhetoric, 
and by teaching the power of meaning rather than the making of statements, we 

inadvertently reproduce a politics that is aware but passive Writing taught as reading, 

that is, accomplishes political stasis" ("Technologies" 499). In short, Miller questions the 
role of cultural studies in the writing classroom, the ways in which cultural studies can 
help students actually produce texts rather than simply creating an awareness of texts' 
various political and social positionings. Julie Drew offers a way out of this dilemma by 
suggesting that production and interpretation should not be placed in binary opposition to 
each other and that we should not so quickly equate writing with political activism and 
interpretation with political stasis. Drew contends, "What cultural studies has to offer 
composition pedagogy is not reading instead of writing, interpretive skills instead of 


rhetorical skills, political passivity instead of engagement" ("Teaching" 418). Rather, she 

the moment the field [of composition studies] turned from product to 
process was the moment cultural studies had something to say to writing 
theorists and teachers. . . . Our publications and conference presentations 
indicate that many composition instructors are becoming increasingly 
interested in the objects of cultural studies analysis as texts for students to 
read and interpret; this trend may . . . indicate a decrease in actual writing 
instruction. Instead of looking to cultural studies for texts to analyze, we 
might attempt to help students conduct and incorporate analyses of the 
conditions in which they themselves produce cultural meaning — academic 
texts — as an integral part of their writing process. . . . Cultural studies' 
tradition of textual and cultural analysis may benefit students enormously 
if that analysis is part of a writing process and thus firmly embedded in 
writing instruction. (Drew's emphases; "Teaching" 416-18) 

Cultural studies for composition students, Drew believes, should no longer center on the 

simple introduction of texts that focus on race, class, gender, and sexuality, for instance. 

That is, cultural studies in composition is less effective if it simply focuses on specific 

kinds of cultural texts and objects that have been neglected in the past. 

Cultural studies, instead, according to Drew, has a place in students' actual 

writing processes; students should be engaged in analyzing the "structures that constitute 

the sites of [their] own writing" (424). Despite the importance of repositioning cultural 

studies within the processes that constitute the writing of texts, Drew's analyses 

unfortunately are a bit vague. She suggests, for example, that "A pedagogy based on . . . 

a cultural studies tradition of analysis of the conditions of production would ask students, 

as part of their writing processes, to identify fhose/orce? that are working for and against 

their authorship Cultural studies has at its core an insistence that the act of textual 

production is intimately and irrevocably linked with cultural forces that construct social 

relations and institutions of power" (my emphases; 425-26). What, one may well ask, 


are all of these "cultural forces"? And how exactly are we expecting students to 
"identify" them? To what end? This is not to suggest that Drew needs to move her 
argument squarely into the realm of the pedagogical, but "cultural forces" can mean any 
number of things to all people and may, at best, seem quite perplexing to students. I 
agree with the premise of Drew's argument that cultural studies has a place in students' 
writing processes; however, delving into these "cultural forces" should not be left to the 
devices of students only. Instead, this is the responsibility of compositionists as well, a 
responsibility that should help compositionists better theorize how "cultural forces" 
affect — not oppress or dominate — students and better understand how this knowledge can 
be used in the everyday space of composition classrooms. 

Composition studies' recent emphases on cultural analyses by way of cultural 
studies have been diverse and prolific, but compositionists have tended to study culture 
only through cultural studies texts rather than anthropological texts, turning to 
anthropologists, paradoxically, only to answer questions about rhetoric and writing. 
"Anthropologists," Terrence Turner believes, "have been doing a lot of complaining that 
they are being ignored by the new academic specializations in 'culture' . . . Most of us 
have been sitting around like so many disconsolate intellectual wallflowers, waiting to be 
asked to impart our higher wisdom, and more than a little resentful that the invitations 
never come" (411). I doubt that many anthropologists are actually sitting around like 
"wallflowers," hoping to impress large numbers of academics with their superior 
expertise in culture; however, compositionists might have something to gain by 
importing anthropology's versions of culture into composition studies. A closer look at 


anthropology's study of culture concepts — and ultimately cultural "forces" and 
processes — is in order. 

Anthropologists tend to accept the notion that culture serves power and that there 
is a place in anthropology for critical studies of "cultural" producers. Many 
anthropologists, however, are concerned that cultural studies is too restricted to the arts, 
the media, the educational system, and categories such as race, class, and gender, thereby 
dealing with only a small portion of anthropological understandings of culture. In 
addition, anthropologists often fear that a cultural product is judged by cultural studies 
theorists only by "applying the test of the radical. It is either "oppressive" or 
"liberating" — only one or the other (Kuper 23 1 ). In this sense, cultural studies creates 
binaries between what is good and evil, examining only power relationships between 
oppressors and the oppressed. Furthermore, anthropologists critique cultural studies for 
its focus on Western society: "When they [cultural studies proponents] look abroad, 
which they do not do very often, what [they] see is a process of Americanization (call 

Globalization) Subject to the same media, the whole world will enact the same 

struggles" (Kuper 232). In short, something is lost when cultural studies analysts focus 
on only Western societies and their influences — comparative analyses of cultures and 
societies are replaced by skepticism and fear of global homogenization. "Alas, the 
traditional ethnographer," Adam Kuper writes, "getting to know what life is like in some 
village, has little to say about all this. Monographs on village affairs therefore remain on 
the shelves, while publishers compete for accounts of how Indonesian urbanites read 
Mexican soaps" (232). Cultural studies theorists and practitioners, then, to some 


anthropologists' dismay, isolate the voices and ways of life of the very people they wish 
to free from marginalization and oppression. 9 

Culture is, no doubt, a problematic and complex word that anthropologists have 
long struggled to define. Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn's Culture: A Critical 
Review of Concepts and Definitions (1952) tabulated 164 conceptions of culture in order 
to specify precise meanings of the term. Frustrated by culture concepts that tried to 
encompass too much, Kroeber and Kluckhohn sought to distinguish culture from society, 
and, in order to do so, they placed culture in the realm of ideas and values: "the essential 
core of culture consists of traditional . . . ideas and especially their attached values" 
(181). In a sense, Kroeber and Kluckhohn's classifications facilitated an intellectual 
revolution in anthropological thought about the meanings of culture. However, even 
before Kroeber and Kluckhohn's volume on culture definitions, debates about the 
meanings of culture underwent a long and complex history. E.B. Tylor, for instance, 
defined culture in 1871 as "that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, 
morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member 
of society" (1). T.S. Eliot believed he was getting at an anthropological understanding of 
culture when he contended that culture is "the way of life of a particular people living 
together in one place. ... a culture is more than the assemblage of its arts, customs, and 
religious beliefs. These things all act upon each other, and fully to understand one you 
have to understand all" (121). Edward Sapir, furthermore, suggested that culture "may be 
briefly defined as civilization insofar as it embodies the national genius" (311). Disputes 
about what culture is before the 1 950s are themselves complex, yet these complexities 
increase exponentially in later years. Consequently, providing a quick summary of what 


•y ' ■ , 

anthropologists mean when they discuss culture is difficult if not impossible. The range 
of considerations and arguments about culture are too far reaching in themselves, not to 
mention those theories which suggest that the term should be abolished altogether. 

A number of anthropologists are concerned that culture can never truly describe 
what it promises to describe and, therefore, it has outlived its usefulness. In particular, 
some argue that culture concepts posit boundaries, structures, homogeneity, and 
coherence, as opposed to the fragmentation, instability, change, and disruption that take 
place in real social existence, therein hiding the many acts of oppression and domination. 
Arjun Appadurai contends that "The noun culture appears to privilege the sort of sharing, 
agreeing, and bounding that fly in the face of the facts of unequal knowledge and the 
differential prestige of lifestyles, and to discourage attention to the worldviews and 
agency of those who are marginalized or dominated" ( 1 2). Many argue that culture 
cannot be examined as a thing (as a noun) and, therefore, anthropologists should only use 
the adjectival form cultural, which suggests difference, contrast, and comparison. Lila 
Abu-Lughod argues, similarly, that "Despite its anti-essentialist intent ... the culture 
concept retains some of the tendencies to freeze difference possessed by concepts like 
race" (144). This is to say, differences between anthropologists and those under study are 
not only kept static but also exaggerated, often placing those studied in subordinate 
positions. "Perhaps anthropologists," Abu-Lughod continues, "should consider strategies 
for writing against culture" (147). Many anthropologists and other cultural theorists 
attack the validity of culture concepts, although they do so from a variety of critical 
positions and backgrounds; I have only touched the surface of such arguments, but 
perhaps there is something valid in these propositions, that culture is more trouble than its 


worth, and that no matter what we do with the term it will still somehow always be 
misapplied. However, such questions, perhaps, should not necessarily ask whether 
culture concepts are beneficial or not; instead, one might question whether people can do 
without culture. Christoph Brumann proposes, "Whether anthropologists like it or not, it 
appears that people — and not only those with power — want culture, and they often want 
it in precisely the bounded, reified, essentialized, and timeless fashion that most of us 
now reject" (11). These "people," whomever they are, might misunderstand the 
implications of this kind of reasoning about culture, but this, some anthropologists argue, 
does not necessarily justify the killing of culture. Anthropologists, instead, should see it 
as their duty, according to Brumann, to remind "people of a given nation" that what they 
"really have in common is often trivial things such as familiarity with certain soap 
brands, commercial slogans, or TV stars and not an ever present awareness of their 
common history and heritage. Anthropologists should remain capable of showing people 
that what they see as 'their culture' is often a rather arbitrary selection" (12). Culture, 
though, despite such problems should not be abrogated but kept— with certain restrictions 
and conditions imposed upon it. 

Dimensions of Culture: Working "In" and Working "With" 

As I have discussed so far, compositionists have been interested in working with 
concepts of culture both inside and outside the writing classroom. This cultural turn in 
composition studies is a necessary one because composition scholars and teachers must 
be aware of the various cultural situations of textual practices— both their own and those 
of students. However, many in composition studies, it appears, tend to see the discipline 
as one that works with culture rather than in culture. In other words, composition studies 


might benefit if it is examined more often as a something of a culture itself, if 
compositionists can see themselves participating in something cultural — something 
comprised of cultures, cultural formations, and practices. Critics often claim that we 
want to see everything as a "culture" nowadays — academic cultures, museum cultures, 
corporate cultures, sports cultures, visual cultures, and drug cultures, just to name a few. 
Thus, I can foresee a number of sighs and groans directed at the notion that composition 
studies also has its own culture." However, I do not wish to argue that composition 
studies in and of itself is a holistic culture that we can somehow delimit, dissect, or 
thoroughly describe, that we can narrow down the concept of culture to something as 
specific as composition studies. "Complex notions like culture, or discourse," Adam 
Kuper notes, "inhibit an analysis of the relationships among the variables they pack 
together. Even in sophisticated modern formulations, culture — or discourse — tends to be 
represented as a single system, though one shot through with arguments and 
inconsistencies" (245). Cultural components, on the other hand, Kuper suggests, should 
be "separated out from each other rather than bound together into a single bundle labeled 
culture . . . if the elements of a culture are disaggregated, it is usually not difficult to show 
that the parts are separately tied to specific administrative arrangements, economic 
pressures, biological constraints, and so forth" (245). Rather than looking for ways to 
better describe or dissect a "culture," this is to say, we might engage in anthropological 
thought that studies cultural processes. Eric Wolf, moreover, believes, "A 'culture' is 
thus better seen as a series of processes that construct, reconstruct, and dismantle cultural 
materials, in response to identifiable determinants" (387). Similarly, Roy D'Andrade 
argues for breaking culture up into parts, which "makes a particulate theory of culture; 


that is, a theory about the 'pieces' of culture, their composition and relation to other 
things" (247). This idea of "pieces" of culture and "relations to other things" is important 
in analyzing culture as fragmented and scattered, and, furthermore, it abolishes notions of 
cultural determinism which contend that culture can be treated in and on its own terms. 
Kuper maintains that "unless we separate out the various processes that are lumped 
together under the heading of culture, and then look beyond the field of culture to other 
processes, we will not get very far in understanding any of it" (247). 

This takes us back to composition studies and student writers; these various 
cultural processes — and the "cultural forces" acting upon these student writers and the 
discipline itself — that I have been discussing thus far might be separated out and 
examined in "relation to other things." Composition studies itself is made up of various 
beliefs, knowledges, values, material locations and practices, institutional politics, 
disciplinary lore, rhetorical genres, and canonical texts. Compositionists study writerly 
practices and writers themselves, those whose textual practices are influenced by other 
social, cultural, political, racial, gender, and economic factors as well as biological and 
cognitive processes. To categorize all of these things under a single heading "culture of 
composition," or "composition's culture," would diminish the dynamic and ever- 
changing configurations of something called composition studies. However, this type of 
anthropological thought helps compositionists understand the processes of composition 
studies itself and the ways in which they relate to each other. By separating out various 
elements, one may better explore how language, texts, knowledges, and values — among 
many other components — change and influence composition studies' various historical, 
institutional, political, social, and cultural arrangements. Documenting and separating 


out all of composition studies' processes and elements, however, is impossible since one 
cannot demarcate an entire discipline in such a manner — particularly a discipline that so 
often draws from other disciplines. And, consequently, such an attempt would suggest 
composition studies is some sort of a whole, a notion that contradicts the reasons for 
examining processes in the first place. 

The dissertation appropriates the theories of anthropologists such as Adam ICuper 
and others who suggests that we should not look to codify culture or try to envision 
culture holistically. Instead, we should try to disaggregate the pieces of culture and see 
how they affect each other, the processes by which cultural components relate to one 
another. With this anthropological prompt, the dissertation attempts to disaggregate 
various pieces of composition studies, to break it apart, and to no longer see it as a 
disciplinary whole with strict boundaries. This, the dissertation contends, will allow us to 
debunk the notion that composition teachers and scholars solely determine the discipline 
and help us recognize how and why other factors and processes shape composition 
studies, particularly student writers themselves. 

In particular, the dissertation investigates student writers, youth, public spheres, 
and concepts of resistance as cultural pieces that have important relationships with one 
another for composition studies. These are by no means the only components that could 
be disaggregated but are pieces that have great importance for the field today. Studying 
these components not only demonstrates how compositionists should not try to construct 
boundaries around composition studies, but they also manifest the diverse and numerous 
forces that serve to construct disciplinary knowledges and practices, therein showing how 


compositionists themselves are not the only proprietors of and actors on disciplinary 
thought and formation. 

I have chosen only a fraction of composition's components — those things that are 
now deemed important aspects of composition studies — that help comprise a larger, 
unstable, and dynamic configuration. First of all, the next chapter examines how students 
are in many ways the basis of composition studies, and it investigates the roles of the 
student writer in composition studies not simply as the learner of our knowledges but as 
both a material and ideal component of our discourses that is actually much more 
complex than we as teachers and scholars of composition studies have allowed for in the 
past. Student themselves, that is, actually help structure our disciplinary knowledges and 
practices to a greater degree than compositionists have recognized. This is to say, I will 
investigate the ways in compositionists construct students in discourse as well as how 
students themselves construct texts in relation to the numerous discourses, values, beliefs, 
and texts that circulate inside and outside of composition studies — the cultural "forces," 
to use Drew's phrase. In chapter three I examine how youth is an often overlooked 
component of composition studies. That is, compositionists often consider the ways in 
which students' writings are affected by discourses of race, class, and gender, but they 
often disregard youth as an important social and cultural category, one that greatly affects 
composition's material practices and its knowledges about students and their writings. 
Youth, however, is a difficult and broad term, so I will discuss in greater detail the way 
that youth is relevant and important for composition studies in particular. Chapter four 
looks at the ways in which compositionists have become interested in having students 
write public texts, or write for the "public sphere." Related to these theories and 


practices are concerns about how compositionists now provide avenues for student texts 
to circulate beyond the writing classroom. These theories and pedagogies raise a number 
of important questions about what sorts of social, cultural, and institutional processes 
compositionists want students to engage in, the ways student texts themselves should 
"relate to things." Finally, in chapter five, I investigate the roles that theories and 
pedagogies of resistance have played in composition studies during the last decade or so. 
The writings of Paulo Freire, for instance, have been incorporated into composition 
studies by scholars such as James Berlin and Ira Shor. Teaching and theorizing 
resistance in composition studies connects closely with the ways in which students are 
figured and constructed both inside and outside the classroom. Students' participation in 
various youth cultures, additionally, will figure into these constructions as well since 
resistance itself, in many cases, is already deemed an action of young people — one of the 
few if venues of agency for youth. 

These four components of composition studies — student writers, youth, 
resistance, and public texts — not only relate to and connect with each other but also with 
other cultural, institutional, social, and political processes that are typically understood to 
exist outside of composition studies and the institutional walls that surround it. This type 
of methodology, furthermore, leads to the construction of a text that is not linear in the 
sense that its chapters build upon one another in order to lead up to some ultimate theory 
in the end. Instead, the chapters are both forward looking and recursive. Each chapter 
studies the way compositionists might re-envision the cultural processes that take place in 
the discipline — processes that tend to show that the control of the discipline is not so 
much under the control of composition teachers and scholars. This project then is more 


ecological than it is linear and evolutionary. These types of investigations, in addition, 
do not simply attempt to make something that might loosely be termed "cultural" more 
precise, but instead they show the complexities of composition studies' relationships to 
and rootedness in other processes. That is, I would like composition studies to open up 
its understandings of other social, political, institutional, and even cognitive, processes. 
This is, of course, not to make composition studies into some kind of totality but to 
rethink the ways in which composition theorizes and teaches "culture" and functions as 
something that is itself "cultural" — the ways it is implicated in various cultural processes. 
This is done not only to show how studies of culture (anthropological or otherwise) can 
help us better understand composition studies and student writers but also to illustrate 
how studies of composition can help us improve our understandings of "culture" and 
cultural processes in general. This project is, consequently and blatantly, a study of 
composition studies' construction, status, and identity as an academic discipline. 


1 Taken from Politics and Letters (London: New Left Books, 1979), pg. 174. 

2 In this chapter my discussion of culture for composition studies is limited mainly to the 
terms used in anthropological and ethnographical texts, despite the fact that "cultural 
studies" has taken an important place in composition's disciplinary identity. 

3 These topics are taken up in detail in Johannes Fabian, Time and the Other: How 
Anthropology Makes its Object (New York: Columbia UP, 1983) and Eric Wolf, 
"Perilous Ideas: Race, Culture, People," Current Anthropology 35.1 (1994): 1-12. 

4 For more on Parsons and his theories of social action, see Bruce C. Wearne, The Theory 
and Scholarship of Talcott Parsons to 1951 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1989) and 
James Peacock, "The Third Stream: Weber, Parsons, and Geertz," Journal of the 
Anthropological Society of Oxford 7 ( 1 98 1 ): 1 22-29. 

5 For a materialist critique of Geertz's "idealism," see William Rosenberry, "Balinese 
Cockfights and the Seduction of Anthropology." Social Research 49.4 (1982): 1013-28. 


6 For more on the bases of interpretive anthropology, see Michael M.J. Fischer, 
"Interpretive Anthropology." Review of Anthropology 4.4(1977): 391-404; also, Paul 
Ricoeur, Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences: Essays on Language, Action, and 
Interpretation (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1981). 

7 The debates about Geertz's interpretive anthropology and "thick description" are 
numerous and far-ranging. One, however, might begin with the following critiques of 
Geertz's work: Michael Carrithers, "Is Anthropology Art of Science." Current 
Anthropology 31 (1990): 263-82; P. Steven Sangren, "Rhetoric and the Authority of 
Ethnography: 'Postmodernism' and the Social Reproduction of Texts." Current 
Anthropology 29 ( 1 988): 405-35; Jonathan Spencer, "Anthropology as a Kind of 
Writing." Ma«24(1989): 145-64; Sherry B. Ortner, ed. The Fate of "Culture": Geertz 
and Beyond (Berkeley and Los Angeles: U of California P, 1999). 

8 Victor Vitanza criticizes the ways that compositionists have devised cultural studies 
theories and pedagogies in such a way that encourage pessimism among students. See 
"'The Wasteland Grows'; Or, What is 'Cultural Studies for Composition' and Why Must 
We Always Speak Good of It?: ParaResponse to Julie Drew," J AC: A Journal of 
Composition Theory 19.4 (1999): 699-703. Also, see Julie Drew's response to Vitanza, 
"On Critique, Cultural Studies, and Community," in the same issue of J AC, pp. 704-06. 

9 For more on the relationship between anthropology and cultural studies, see Nicholas 
Thomas's "Becoming Undisciplined: Anthropology and Cultural Studies." 
Anthropological Theory Todav. Ed. Henrietta L. Moore (Maiden, MA: Polity P, 1999. 

10 Others who discuss the eradication of culture concepts are Robert Brightman, "Forget 
Culture: Replacement, Transcendence, Relexification." Cultural Anthropology 10 (1995): 
509-46; Tim Ingold, "The Art of Translation in a Continuous World." Beyond 
Boundaries: Understanding, Translation, and Anthropological Discourse. Ed. Gisli 
Palsson (London: Berg, 1993. 210-30); and Jack Goody, "Culture and Its Boundaries: A 
European View." Assessing Cultural Anthropology. Ed. Robert Borofsky (New York: 
McGraw-Hill, 1994. 250-60); and Susan Hegeman, Patterns for America: Modernism 
and the Concept of Culture (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1 999), particularly chapter seven, 
"On Getting Rid of Culture." 

1 1 For more in-depth discussions about "narrow" conceptions of culture, see Terry 
Eagleton, The Idea of Culture (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), especially chapter two, 
"Culture in Crisis." See also Geoffrey Hartman, The Fateful Question of Culture (New 
York: 1997). 


Making Composition Studies' Knowledges: Theorists and Anti-Theorists 

The gap between engaging others where they are and representing them where they 

aren 7, always immense but not much noticed, has suddenly become extremely visible. 

What once seemed only technically difficult, getting their 'lives ' into 'our ' works, has 

turned morally, politically, even epistemologically, delicate. 

— Clifford Geertz, Works and Lives 

In order to begin thinking about the cultural pieces and processes that help construct and 

change the formation of composition studies, particularly those that aid in our 

understanding of student writers, it is necessary to look first at how composition studies 

sees itself, on one hand, as a knowledge-making discipline and as, on the other hand, a 

field primarily dedicated to teaching writing. Composition studies, this is to say, suffers 

from an identity crisis about the discipline's primary goals and endeavors. The points of 

dispute that facilitate the crisis, nevertheless, are numerous and involve diverse sides and 

voices; however, the arguments between supporters of theory and supporters of practice 

have formed the biggest rift in the construction of composition's disciplinary identity and 

knowledge making. Sidney I. Dobrin writes that "This debate has a direct impact on 

those of us in rhetoric and composition since our task as teachers and scholars seems to 

be twofold: to participate in practice, our pedagogy; and to produce theory that explains 

the nature, function, and operation of written discourse. In other words, on a 



daily basis we are forced to participate in this argument, or at least to acknowledge how 
this debate affects the profession" {Constructing 6). Those primarily engaged in making 
pedagogies are often understood as educators who participate in a student-oriented 
discipline, a discipline that must center on finding new and productive ways to teach 
students how to write "better"; on the other hand, those who theorize writing are often 
viewed as scholars who create knowledges about the workings of discourse, with little 
interest in how their theories connect to the everyday world of the composition 
classroom. Gary A. Olson expresses the danger involved in these opposing disciplinary 
viewpoints: "More than any debate over which modes of scholarly inquiry are most 
valuable, or which journals privilege which mode, the theory/anti -theory split emerging 
in the field threatens to polarize us in unproductive ways — in ways that serve to silence 
the debate and to narrow our conception of the discipline of rhetoric and composition" 
("Role" 4). While there is some middle-ground between these poles, compositionists 
must often resort to choosing sides. However, Dobrin and Olson find some comfort in 
composition studies' current split, as long as composition theorists and practitioners can 
hold "a responsible conversation that allows theory and practice to interact in dialectical 
operation. The field will benefit by engaging in professional dialogue about the 
relationship of theory and practice" (Dobrin Constructing 26). Both agree that this "non- 
solution" will perpetuate meaningful and constructive conversations in composition 
studies, that this dialectical tension will somehow keep propelling composition studies 

Joseph Harris in similar fashion argues that composition studies cannot rely solely 
on only one type of knowledge making; Harris, however, is concerned that composition 


studies is moving too far away from its roots as a "teaching subject," which, according to 
Harris, is "a loose set of practices, concerns, issues, and problems having to do with how 
writing gets taught" (x). Harris, though, supports "the professionalizing of the field. But 
I do not want that professionalization to come at the cost of close ties to teaching that are 
what give so much work in the field its political and intellectual edge. . . . [because] 
composition as a teaching subject [is] that part of English studies which defines itself 
through an interest in the work students and teachers do together" (Teaching ix-xi). 
Harris reinforces Dobrin's and Olson's notions that composition's identity is split 
between those who favor teacherly practices and those who favor theoretical inquiry, that 
composition studies' identity is rooted (and flourishes) in these debates, struggles, and 
tensions, and that composition studies must be wary of one side eclipsing the other. 
Harris, however, argues that composition studies (as a "teaching subject") defines itself 
through the interactions between students and teachers in the world of the classroom — a 
point Dobrin and Olson would disagree with — which suggests that composition studies' 
pedagogical endeavors rely on students and their exchanges with teachers of writing in 
order to form practitioners ' knowledge. This, consequently, implies that composition 
studies' theoretical pursuits are not defined by students and by their interactions with 
teachers and theorists of writing. 

Composition studies, nevertheless, is a student-centered discipline on both sides 
of this theory/anti-theory debate because each side makes knowledges by thinking 
through various concepts of student writers— figures through which disciplinary 
knowledges flow. That is, the fundamental problem with the theory/anti -theory debate is 
that it posits the student writer only on the side of the pedagogical, assuming that the 


student writer does not influence theoretical knowledges. These debates, consequently, 
are as much about the placement of the student writer within the discipline as they are 
about the primacy of pedagogy or theory, debates that in most cases see the student as 
relatively innocuous in forming the "true" meaning and identity of composition studies. 
However, whether we place the student writer on one side of the theory /anti-theory 
dichotomy is perhaps less important than looking for ways to escape the binary altogether 
and focusing instead upon how the student writer affects and helps compositionists build 
both their theories and pedagogies. This is not to put theory and practice on opposite 
ends of a disciplinary spectrum but to assert that student writers — as either rhetorical 
constructs or as real individuals — are the means through which composition studies is 
shaped and changes over time. That is, our understandings and observations of students, 
affect our theories and pedagogies as much, if not more, than our theories and pedagogies 
affect our students. 

I use the phrase "figure of the student," in particular, to suggest that the various 
conversations about student writers that take place in composition studies — in books, 
journal articles, and conference presentations — may never truly represent the students 
under discussion, or somehow capture the "reality" of these individuals who sit in 
composition classrooms, visit office hours, and turn in written assignments; that is, one 
may well wonder whether there is a (static) reality of students that can be captured in 
texts. Charlotte Aull Davies suggests, "The purpose of research is to mediate between 
different constructions of reality, and doing research means increasing understanding of 
these varying constructions" (6). Davies' perspective helps pose questions about whether 
composition studies' own disciplinary texts can document "students" as an empirical 


sociological category or whether the discipline can only invent and present textual 
figures. In other words, scholarly texts in composition studies that range from the most 
detailed ethnographic case studies to those that theorize more generally about the 
relationships between discourse and student writers all are subject to questions and 
problems of representation, subject to inquiries about whether compositionists can do 
anything more than rhetorically create various versions of student writers in their texts. 1 
These questions, however, cannot be approached simply through rhetorical and textual 
analyses; instead, they need to be investigated through other modes of disciplinary 
thought and knowledge as well as various other social, cultural, political, and institutional 
processes. This chapter examines the "student writer" in composition studies — its 
functions, meanings, values, materiality, and construction. In doing so, I hope to move 
beyond questions that ask whether theory or practice defines composition studies and, 
instead, examine the roles and functions of the student writer in composition studies — 
how the student writer shapes and is shaped by composition studies. This is to say, if we 
want to examine the "cultural forces" at play in students' writing processes — as Drew 
suggests — we might first come to a better understanding of the student writers 
themselves, their own relationships with composition studies and their relationships with 
other processes that affect the discipline. To begin looking more closely at the placement 
of student writers in composition studies, we should look at the some of the debates about 
the primacy of the "ideational" and the "material," debates that have largely taken place 
in anthropology and are beginning to come to the fore in composition studies. 


Versions of Student Writers: Ideational and Material 

I have suggested so far that the "student writer" is one element or component of 
composition studies; I have asserted, furthermore, that the student writer is one of the 
main components by which the discipline functions, creates meanings, and changes over 
time. Examining how composition studies understands, observes, and represents student 
writers as both "ideational" and "material" entities is first necessary in order to 
comprehend better how composition studies has "figured" the student writer in the 
discipline and how the student writer helps figure composition studies. By invoking the 
age-old debates about ideal realms and material realms, I do not simply seek to answer 
questions about which of these two spheres should take precedence in composition 
studies, I do not necessarily just wish to see the two operate in dialectical fashion in 
composition studies, nor do I hope merely to collapse one into the other. Instead, I look 
at how some anthropologists have handled the ideational and the material in order to 
show the various ways the student writer already does figure into composition studies as 
well as to examine how the representations of student writers play such a key role in 
composition studies' own functioning and knowledge making. This is to say, a 
discussion of the ideational and material shall lead into larger conversations about the 
processes by which the student writer is understood and represented in composition 
studies and about how the discipline circulates these understandings in order to create 
both stasis and dynamism. 

In The Interpretation of Cultures Clifford Geertz contends, "Believing . . . that 
man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to 
be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search 


of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning" (5). Composition studies does 
encompass various knowledges, dialogues, and practices that may be understood as 
"webs of significance" that construct the discipline. Geertz's notion of culture, however, 
is not only hermetic but also deterministic. That is, Geertz sees culture as a system that 
can be understood by interpreting its symbols, and he also sees culture as a symbolic 
system that in large part determines social action. He argues, in other words, that culture 
is "the fabric of meaning in terms which human beings interpret their experience and 
guide their action" (144-45). For Geertz, culture rules the roost; it is the primuum mobile 
of human affairs, a dominant force in history; that is, Geertz views culture as a guiding 
force for human action, but he also suggests that culture is a framework for human 
understanding and interpretation — culture leads us but it also provides us retrospective 
understanding. All in all, and most significantly, however, he treats culture on its own 
terms — as a system of metaphors, signs, and texts. Thus, it is not surprising that his 
emphases on textual interpretations and hermeneutics have been applauded by many in 
the humanities, while his work has often been disparaged by those in the social sciences 
for not developing more "scientifically-oriented" social theories. Geertz, despite his 
works' shortcomings in the eyes of many social scientists, does aid in understanding how 
culture is ideational, and Geertz, for that matter, does not stand alone. A number of 
contemporary anthropologists defend the notion that a culture consists only of socially 
shared and transmitted ideas — values and beliefs, for instance. William Durham, for 
example, suggests that such shared and transmitted ideational entities exist only "in the 
minds of human beings" (3). Composition studies, in some regards, holds its own 


ideational understandings of student writers — its own shared values, meanings, and 

beliefs about student writers that circulate within and beyond the discipline. 

Composition studies, this is to say, is in part held together by the meanings, 

understandings, and beliefs that compositionists share. Donald Davidson's "A Coherence 

Theory of Truth and Knowledge" complicates the notion of "belief ': 

What distinguishes a coherence theory is simply the claim that nothing can 
count as a reason for holding a belief except another belief. Its partisan 
rejects as unintelligible the request for a ground or source of justification 
of another ilk. As Rorty has put it, "nothing counts as justification unless 
by reference to what we already accept, and there is no way to get outside 
our beliefs and our language so as to find some test other than coherence." 
About this I am in agreement with Rorty. (3 1 0) 

Davidson's "coherence theory of truth" contends that statements cannot be judged as 

truthful by the degree to which they represent reality, or the objective world. 2 Instead, 

statements are "truthful" only by the degree to which they "cohere" to beliefs already 

shared by groups of people. Beliefs, that is, are considered "objective" only by the ways 

in which they cohere to other people's beliefs, the degree to which other people hold 

these same beliefs. Thomas Kent adheres to Davidson's coherence theory because, in 

doing so, we in composition studies would "no longer need to justify our beliefs by 

claiming that our assertions refer to objective truths residing outside language. ... By 

promoting a coherence theory of truth ... we no longer require a master narrative of 

objectivity" (70-71). Composition studies is a discipline whose meanings are often made 

by teachers' and theorists' interactions with students and the consequent representations 

of these students in texts, as well as by the ways those (classroom) interactions are, in 

turn, affected by texts that portray and characterize students in certain ways. Thus, 

Davidson's and Kent's theories allow compositionists to see how the student writer in 


composition studies is "meaningful," the ways the student writer is tied into systems of 
beliefs rather than empirically or objectively presented in composition studies' texts. 
That is, composition studies has its own shared beliefs about who and what students are 
as well as what they are capable of accomplishing in their own textual practices because 
they are not objectively represented. 

In discussing ideational aspects of the student writer in composition studies, one 
can begin with the issue of the stereotype. Certain stereotypes about student writers 
obviously exist within composition studies; compositionists, in particular, tend to share 
beliefs — stereotypes — about what students "lack," about students' deficiencies in 
producing and interpreting texts, and about what students "need" in order to become 
better writers. From a post-colonial perspective, Homi Bhabha argues in The Location of 
Culture that 

Fixity, as the sign of cultural/historical/racial difference in the discourses 
of colonialism, is a paradoxical mode of representation: it connotes 
rigidity and an unchanging order as well as disorder, degeneracy and 
daemonic repetition. Likewise the stereotype, which is its major 
discursive strategy, is a form of knowledge and identification that 
vacillates between what is always "in place," already known, and 
something that must be anxiously repeated. (66) 

Benita Parry, in addition, asserts that "By showing the wide range of stereotypes and the 

shifting subject positions assigned to the colonized . . . [Homi Bhabha] sets out to liberate 

the colonial from its debased inscription as Europe's monolithic and shackled Other, and 

into an autonomous native difference" (40). Bhabha, in short, believes that stereotypes 

are forms of knowledge that disregard historical, generational, cultural, and racial 

differences in order to inscribe a static conception of a colonized group of people. 

Although I do not mean to offer a strict comparison between student writers and the 


colonized individuals Bhabha refers to, composition studies does often stereotype student 
writers in various ways that places them in ahistorical, acultural, and asocial conceptual 
categories that create and manifest certain (timeless) deficiencies in their production and 
interpretation of texts. Stereotypes, this is to say, are ideas and beliefs circulating within 
composition studies that are not derived from any strict connection to the material world 
of the classroom. That is, stereotypes are a form of ideological power that not only make 
meaning but try to make meaning stick; they perform a closing off of the signifying 
chain in order to fix individuals in a certain position of closure. 

Thomas Kent argues that "Because we employ coherence strategies in order to 
weave our utterances into the webs of belief that hold together the discourses of social 
life, these strategies cannot be regarded as structural semantics or syntactic units of 
language; rather, they are hermeneutic constructs that allow us to shape our discourse so 
that our discourse will be meaningful to others" (72) and, therefore, "a coherence strategy 
may be regarded as a paralogic-hermeneutic guess about what we take to be the beliefs 
held by others in a particular communication situation" (72). Composition studies is held 
together by its own "webs of belief," — or "webs of significance," to use Geertz's 
phrase — that cohere because shared understandings and interpretations about student 
writers are believed — beliefs that partially (in)form composition studies. Student writers, 
according to these theories, are neither objectively nor subjectively presented in the 
discipline's texts but written (produced) according to strategies — hermeneutic guesses 
and rhetorical maneuvers — that attempt to conform to the beliefs already held by other 
compositionists and readers. Texts that contribute to the formation of composition 
studies, then, are effective and interesting because compositionists believe them, not 


because these texts put compositionists in touch with an objective reality of student 
writers that exists beyond texts themselves; compositionists, instead, are put in contact 
with ideas — beliefs and meanings — that are accepted and circulate within composition 
studies. Composition studies' shared meanings and beliefs — its ideas — are, however, not 
ahistorical and timeless but rhetorically fashioned within particular historical, cultural, 
political, institutional, and social contexts. That is, the ideas and beliefs about students 
are constructed, and they are protean. 

A number of compositionists, consequently, like many anthropologists and other 
cultural theorists, are interested in the politics of naming — the ambiguous authority of 
words — and the conditions in which naming creates possibilities and hindrances for 
social connections and social capacities among individuals and groups. In Language as 
Symbolic Action, for instance, Kenneth Burke — often appropriated by interpretive 
anthropologists to speak about the ways language constructs meaning and "reality" — 
argues that even the most simple and most natural acts of naming put a topic, metaphor, 
or entity in a discursive context that prefigures a response: "Not only does the nature of 
our terms affect the nature of our observations, in the sense that the terms direct attention 
to one field rather than another. Also, many of the 'observations ' are but implications of 
the particular terminology in terms of which the observations are made. In brief, much 
of what we take as observations about 'reality' may be but the spinning out of 
possibilities implicit in our particular choice of terms" (Burke's emphases; Language 46). 
The terms "student" or "student writer" in composition studies tend to prefigure students 
as politically innocent and naive and prefigure them as beginners and novices who lack 
the appropriate abilities, skills, and literacies necessary to produce and interpret 


(academic) discourse — I shall take this up in greater detail in my discussion about public 
spheres in chapter four and critical pedagogy in chapter five. Bruce Horner is absolutely 
correct when he asserts that "Students are predominantly characterized by what they 
lack — maturity, ability, interest, creativity, knowledge, experience, and so on" (32). 
Composition studies, as Horner suggests, does define and stereotype student writers by 
what they lack. What students lack, however, is in large part defined by the knowledges 
and beliefs in composition studies' own, already accepted, disciplinary domains. 
Students and their "deficiencies" and "critical emptiness," that is, are already recognized 
as part of composition studies — an integral, expected, and needed part of the discipline's 
knowledges, meanings, and beliefs. Composition studies, perhaps, would even 
undermine itself if it did not somehow construct and understand students as people who 
lack certain knowledges and skills that compositionists' could help them gain. 

Compositionists, then, may begin to consider the consequences of "owning" 
student writers in their discourses. Anthropologists, by comparison, not only examine 
social and cultural objects and subjects but also recognize the ways that these objects and 
subjects are positioned in and written under various relations of power, the ways in which 
theories and practices are inscribed in wider historical, institutional, and discursive space. 
Debbora Battaglia suggests, "For a politics of naming, then, the issue becomes to decide 

which names have value and significance for whom, situationally The question ... is 

whom we disown by our choice of analytics and rhetorics, and how we might achieve a 
more properly nuanced understanding of the practices in which we are implicated" (125). 
Composition studies, then, through such lenses might examine more closely its own 
powers and reasons for shaping such ideas and beliefs about "students" and "student 


writers" — those individuals and groups whose placement in composition studies is 
positioned in large part by compositionists' ideas and beliefs about them. I shall return to 
this in a moment; however, I would like first to discuss the other broad side of viewing 
and representing "student writers" in composition studies — their materiality. 

Materiality of Student Writers: Bruce Horner and "The Real" 

The complexities and dilemmas associated with a politics of naming, as I have 
discussed, are endemic not only to anthropology but also to disciplinary fields and sub- 
fields such as rhetoric, cultural studies, post-colonial theory, and identity politics. 
Anthropology, in particular, however, often attempts to "get real," which means, 
according to Debbora Battaglia, "examining the cultural imaginary, as it is revealed and 
configured in social practice, in order to determine the value of particular relationships to 

people at particular times and places [getting real] is grasping the pragmatism and 

imagination and feelings people reveal, in their common, and uncommon practices. It is 
recognizing one's self, or an other's, as anything but given" (1 14). "Getting real" means 
asserting the need to examine the historical and social situatedness of relationships and 
practices; that is, it moves toward the materiality of living and the materiality of 

"Getting real" for composition studies, then, much like "getting real" for 
anthropology, has also meant that compositionists must examine in greater detail the 
material aspects and consequences — rather than the ideational aspects (often termed, by 
Bruce Horner, as "theoretical") — of their disciplinary practices. Horner, for example, 
argues that 


Composition reveals what most disciplines deny: the contradiction 
between the apparent stability of their disciplinary subject as an abstract, 
reified entity, and the necessity for its continual, material reproduction 
through pedagogy generally and writing in particular. Academic 
disciplines both need and resent their need for Composition, hence the 
close parallel between the attitude taken toward Composition and the 
attitudes often taken toward the auto mechanic, plumber, or electrician, 
and toward women in general in their "mothering ,, function. . . . For the 
composition course calls attention to the material location and 
production — the labor — of academic work that academics are at pains to 
deny. (Terms 146-47) 

Composition studies, this is to say, is also caught in debates between supporters of the 

ideational and supporters of the material, and more specifically, debates about which 

determines the other. 

Horner is one who insists on the materiality of composition studies and is quite 

specific in his arguments. I quote him at length again in order to show the detail of his 

perspectives and the importance he has to my argument: 

[t]he materiality of writing might be understood to refer to networks for 
the distribution of writing, controls over publishing (in whatever form), 
and global relations of power articulated through these. And it may be 
discussed in order to include particular subjectivities — the 
consciousness — produced by the conditions of "postmodern," "post- 
Fordist," or other sociocultural conditions. Similarly, the materiality of 
writing may be understood to include social relations — say, between 
students and teachers in the composition classroom; relations of race, 
gender, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, generation, and region. ... the 
materiality of the work of teaching composition can be understood to 
include physical classroom conditions; the teacher's physical health and 
office and library resources; clerical support, teaching load, salary, and 
job security; intra- and interdepartmental relations between composition 
staff and other faculty; characteristics of student population; . . . and 
teachers' lived experience of the history of these relations to which any act 
of teaching may be seen as responding. {Terms xviii-xix) 

Composition studies in almost every aspect, Horner contends, is made up of a series of 

material relationships — in some form or another. Student writers are tied into all of these 

demarcations of the material; however, this, as I will discuss in a moment, raises 


questions about whether we can dismiss the relationships and interchanges between the 
ideational and the material. Horner, in particular, maintains that "the material social 
conditions mak[e] [composition's] work possible and shapfe] it; we cannot use its 
'intellectuality' as a basis for denying its materiality" (9). Horner, this is to say, rejects 
certain ideational images present in composition studies: for instance, "ideal images of 
Studenthood and Teacherhood . . . deny the pressure of grading and the pursuit of grades 
in favor of a more flattering image of classroom work as the disinterested pursuit of 
knowledge" (242). Horner's insistence on focusing on the material in composition is, no 
doubt, a much-needed boost for the discipline because it provides examinations of 
numerous unexplored spaces, conditions, and relationships, and, furthermore, his work 
helps demystify the abstractions of classrooms, teachers, and students. He suggests, for 
example, that "For students — as living, thinking, speaking human beings changing not 
just every semester but from class meeting to class meeting and often within class 
meetings — constitute some of the most intransigent reminders of the materiality of 
academic work" (3 1 ). This is to say, composition studies needs to focus more on its own 
materiality in order to recognize better its social, historical, and institutional situatedness. 
Horner, however, argues here against an overly specific conception of the "ideal" or 
"ideational," one that seems like some type of false consciousness, for example. He 
contends that ideas too often take the shape of either ( 1 ) "ideal images" that are idyllic, 
exemplary, or perfect or (2) "theories" and "theorizing" that are not connected to 
materiality of the production of theories themselves: "The work of theory, or, better, 
'theorizing,' is not typically imagined as material practice but as commodity whose 
properties reside in the 'theory' itself, understood as existing outside the material realm" 


(225). This is all to say, Horner's narrow conception of the ideational discounts any 

understanding of composition studies' involvement with social and cultural processes that 

partially consist of "webs of belief ' or "webs of significance," those which might be 

analyzed outside of material realms. 

Horner's assertions — that we should focus greater attention on the material 

entities and relationships in composition studies — challenge those who wish only to 

improve the status of composition as an "intellectual" endeavor, those who want to cut 

composition studies' ties to "work" and material social practice, and those who do not 

wish to be seen as the "mechanics, plumbers, and electricians" of academia. Horner's 

points, to be sure, are timely and valid, but he may take his argument too far by entirely 

and quickly dismissing the ideational aspects of composition studies and student 

writers — particularly his conflation of the ideational and theory — and by, in large part, 

attempting to move all traces of the ideational into the material. This brings to mind 

some of the writings of Karl Marx who, like many others, sought to synthesize idealism 

and materialism, to abolish the contradictions between these two terms by showing that 

philosophical ideas are themselves part of the material processes they describe: 

We see how subjectivity and objectivity, spirituality and materiality, 
activity and suffering, lose their antithetical character, and thus their 
existence as such antitheses only within the framework of society; we see 
how the resolution of their theoretical antithesis is only possible in a 
practical way, by virtue of the practical energy of many. Their resolution 
is therefore by no means merely a problem of understanding, but a real 
problem of life, which philosophy could not solve precisely because it 
conceived this problem merely a theoretical one. (302) 

Marx suggests here that false consciousness exists not in idealism or materialism but in 

the contradictions that exist between these two separate modes of thought. By unifying 

the two, according to Marx, the debate between idealism and materialism can be 


resolved, forming a totality instead of a hostile split. Horner's argument folds the 
ideational into the material but, in doing so, it places the material as the determining 
factor in cultural, social, political, and historical constructions — all the time disregarding 
the influence of the ideational. 

I am suggesting here neither that compositionists should focus their attention 
solely on the ideational nor that they should — like Horner — emphasize only the material. 
Instead, the student writer in composition studies is shaped by both the ideational and the 
material, and we might attempt to understand better the ways in which composition 
studies needs both and is both, the ways the discipline needs to comprehend how each 
affects the other in order to facilitate disciplinary meaning and identity — rather than 
dismiss one or fold one into the other; in particular, from such analyses compositionists 
can better understand the role of the "student writer" for composition studies. Teachers 
and theorists of composition, then, may study how ideas — stereotypical or otherwise — 
affect material practices and also how material practices and spheres create ideas, beliefs, 
and values, therein examining how the two operate dialectically and are inextricably 
linked — how the two are equally complex and problematic. However, beyond these two 
traditional means of understanding how students may be represented, there is a third way, 
one that helps us move beyond this dualistic thinking. This is to say, looking at the 
theories of the ideational and material are important in helping us begin to understand 
how student writers have been discussed, observed, and represented by compositionists 
but investigating the student writer as either or both an ideational or material entity is 
perhaps less important than examining how these knowledges and representations 


circulate in and out of composition studies, how they move and flow and affect the 

disciplinary make-up of composition. Michael Taussig argues that 

To ponder mimesis is to become sooner or later caught, like the police and 
the modern State with their fingerprinting devices, in sticky webs of copy 
and contact, image and bodily involvement of the perceiver in the image, 
a complexity we too easily elide as nonmysterious, with our facile use of 
terms such as identification, representation, expression, and so forth — 
terms which simultaneously depend upon and erase all that is powerful 
and obscure in a network of associations conjured by the notion of the 
mimetic. (21) 

Compositionists' larger concern about student writers, perhaps, should not be so much 

whether or how they are accurately represented in their discourses; instead, they should 

be interested in how compositionists' various knowledges and perceptions are involved in 

these representations — whether ideal or material or both — and how these knowledges 

move in and out of the discipline, how our knowledges are dynamic and historical, and 

how they relate to other things beyond what falls within the typically accepted "network 

of associations" in composition studies. This, in short, is meant to question the 

epistemological frameworks in which we as teachers and theorists understand student 

writers and produce knowledges about them, to question our habits of mind and vision 

and ask what sorts of knowing are involved here. Taussig suggests, 

Of course what happens is that the very concept of "knowing" something 
becomes displaced by "relating to." And what is troublesome and 
exciting, not only are we stimulated into rethinking what "vision" means 
as this very term decomposes before our eyes, but we are forced to ask 
ourselves why vision is so privileged ... in Euroamerican cultures at 
least, so linguistically impoverished yet actually so crucial to human being 
and social life. (26) 

Looking more closely at student writers, then, affords us the opportunity to understand 

better how composition studies tends to see student writers but also, in turn, how these 

visions— literal and tropological— help composition studies function as a discipline— one 


that moves and changes based on its various views of student writers. This is all to ask, 
in what ways is composition studies a discipline that relies on compositionists' own 
vantage points and observations, how does the discipline make its knowledges 
accordingly, what dangers are involved, and how might we begin rethinking and 
(re)viewing student writers and the discipline as a whole? 

Emics and Etics: Viewing and Reviewing 

There is certainly a danger in trying to connect anthropological theories and 
methods with those of composition studies. Thus, I would like to qualify my argument 
briefly by suggesting that composition studies should look to anthropology for better 
understandings of the construction of student writers but should not assume too strict a 
comparison with it. Equating student writers too closely with the various other (often 
colonized) peoples of the world is problematic and dangerous; however, composition 
studies can continue to exchange knowledges with anthropology in a looser sense, one in 
which compositionists think more deeply about questions of culture, boundaries, 
representation, ethnography, and discourse, for example. These anthropological methods 
and theories, though, must be reshaped and re-understood more appropriately within the 
context of composition studies itself, that is, without expecting a direct and 
unproblematic importation of knowledges from one discipline into another. 

Anthropologists often distinguish between an understanding of cultural meanings 
and representations experienced from the viewpoint of a native of that culture (emic) and 
an understanding of cultural meanings and representations experienced from the 
viewpoint of an outside observer (etic). 3 Similarly, Clifford Geertz in Works and Lives 
defines these perspectives as "experience-near" and "experience-distant": "An 


experience-near concept is, roughly, one that someone — a patient, a subject, in our case 
an informant — might himself naturally and effortlessly use to define what he or his 
fellows see, feel, think, imagine, and so on, and which he would readily understand when 
similarly applied by others," and, on the other hand, "an experience-distant concept is one 
that specialists of one sort or another — an analyst, an experimenter, an ethnographer, 
even a priest or an ideologist — employ to forward their scientific, philosophical, or 
practical aims" (57). When compositionists observe, categorize, and represent students in 
their texts, they often do so from an emic viewpoint. That is, as I have investigated so 
far, compositionists share beliefs about student writers and how they examine student 
writers in relation to various material and ideational realms. These ideational and 
material modes of understanding and classifying student writers, this is to say, have been 
emic or "experience-near" because emic points of view suggest to compositionists that 
their discipline is a holistic enterprise in which experts in the field have complete access 
to its knowledges. Thus, as compositionists, we see ourselves as insiders in the discipline 
that we call composition studies, and we believe that as insiders we make knowledges 
that construct this discipline — a problematic understanding and vantage point that I 
discuss more in this chapter and in chapter three. 

By looking more closely at how compositionists try to understand, view, and 
represent student writers from an emic perspective, we might realize that we as teachers 
and scholars of composition have sought to study only the knowledges, discourses, and 
cultures that flow within composition studies itself. Thus, compositionists have failed in 
large part to investigate the various positions student writers occupy and the powers they 
hold both inside and outside of something called composition studies and how, therefore, 


such knowledges, discourses, and powers constantly flow in and out of the discipline — 
making it fluid and dynamic. Consequently, those of us in composition studies have not 
considered looking at the ways in which student writers affect and change composition 
studies as much as we have considered how composition studies affects student writers. 
Compositionists, then, might start exploring how student writers may be situationally and 
contextually defined outside of composition studies (etic). In other words, composition 
studies can make etic — "experience-distant" — perspectives more prevalent in the 
discipline by first paying attention to anthropology's self-reflexive critiques, the ways 
anthropologists and ethnographers participate in and observe various other cultures under 
study, always attempting to renew and review their own accepted knowledges about 
groups of people. Dell Hymes believes that "The general mission of anthropology in part 
can be said to help overcome the limitations of the categories and understandings of 
human life that are part of a single civilization's partial view" (7). Theories and 
pedagogies in composition studies that utilize etic perspectives, consequently, would 
begin to provide composition studies with new and always changing beliefs, practices, 
and viewpoints. That is, such perspectives would allow compositionists to begin to see 
themselves as outsiders to the complexities of students, thereby not only disrupting the 
previously held knowledges of student writers but acknowledging that these complexities 
need to be constantly re-contextualized within the discipline. In other words, 
compositionists, then, might begin asking questions about the various cultural situations 
of student writers in and out of composition studies — keeping in mind that what is in and 
out are constantly shifting— rather than questions about how student writers' deficiencies 
may be repaired and how students can be taught to write "better." It is not enough, in 


short, to argue that students are rhetorically constructed figures in composition studies, 
that our knowledges are "socially constructed," and that we should be satisfied with the 
predictability of postmodern arguments that attempt to show how all forms of 
representation are futile and unfair. Rather, we in composition might start examining 
what our views of and knowledges about student writers are and what they tell us about 
ourselves, the discipline, and the student writers themselves, therein investigating our 
own interpretations and practices of knowledge making, which are ultimately tied to 
those of students' — and vice versa. 

Thus, we return to questions about observation, the methods and ways in which 
theorists and teachers of writing examine and see student writers in order to theorize their 
various cultural, institutional, political, and social situations. However, we run into 
problems when we discuss ways of observing students if we don't connect our theories 
and practices to the larger frameworks of composition studies itself. That is, we must 
remember that intricate theories of observing student writers do little good if they are 
disconnected from any understanding of composition studies' own knowledges, values, 
practices, and beliefs. We cannot dissociate "observation" from the various disciplinary, 
institutional, political, cultural, and social contexts in which it takes place. Let's first take 
a closer look at some of anthropology's methods and theories of observation. 

Anthropology as a discipline has long been connected to ethnographic methods of 
research, which have also held important and lasting places in composition studies. 
George Marcus and Michael Fischer write that ethnography focuses "precisely on 
problems of the recording, interpretation, and description of closely observed social and 
cultural processes. While long associated by its public with the study of so-called 

primitive, isolated societies, anthropology in fact has been applying its 'jeweler's-eye' 
method for some time to complex nation-state societies, increasingly, our own" (15). 
Moreover, anthropologists discuss the rhetorics and politics of ethnographic inquiry in 
conversations that use synonymously the, almost oxymoronic, phrase "participant 
observation." Participant observation, in its classic form, "consists of a single researcher 
spending an extended period of time (usually at least a year) living among the people he 
or she is studying, participating in their daily lives in order to gain as complete an 
understanding as possible of cultural meanings and social structures of the group and how 
these are interrelated" (Davies 67). Furthermore, Paul Rabinow writes the following 
about participant observation: 

Observation is the governing term in the pair, since it situates the 
anthropologists' activities. However much one moves in the direction of 
participation, it is always the case that one is still both an outsider and an 

observer In the dialect between the poles of observation and 

participation, participation changes the anthropologist and leads him to 
new observation, whereupon new observation changes how he 
participates. But this dialectical spiral is governed in its motion by the 
starting point, which is observation. (79-80) 

Composition studies functions on a similar participation/observation axis. The 

classroom, for instance, is one space in which compositionists observe and participate in 

students' writing and interpretive practices — despite their observations, though, 

compositionists as I have argued tend to see themselves as insiders, engaging emic 

perspectives. However, as Keith Rhodes notes, "observers mainly see patterns already 

suggested by their own theories" (27) and, in addition, "'ethnographic' studies in 

composition consistently focus on predetermined goals and make persistent reference to 

theories developed outside the culture under study. Hence, such studies profoundly alter 

the methodology they claim to use" (31). Compositionists' observations and 


participations are necessarily reflected and biased strongly by their already-held theories 
of and ideas about writing and student writers, those (pre)determined by their own 
participation in composition studies. James Clifford, furthermore, contends that 
"participant observation is a paradoxical, misleading formula, but it may be taken 
seriously if reformulated in hermeneutic terms as a dialectic of experience and 
interpretation" (34). One's observations are always already prefigured to some extent by 
ideas and understandings of student writers that circulate within composition studies. 
In The Interpretation of Cultures, Clifford Geertz forefronts the importance of 
cultural frameworks by suggesting that "We are, in sum, incomplete or unfinished 
animals who complete or finish ourselves in culture — and not through culture in general 
but through highly particular forms of it: Dobuan or Javanese, Hopi and Italian, upper- 
class and lower-class, academic and commercial" (my emphasis; 49). Students 
themselves are figured within composition studies as individuals who need to be 
completed by learning how to produce certain texts, to interpret certain discourses, or to 
learn things about themselves in relation to oppressive discourses, for instance. The 
student writers are figured as individuals who will "finish" themselves by taking part in 
this or that "culture," and composition studies itself, conversely, is based upon the notion 
that its purpose is to help students do so. This may not necessarily sound like such a bad 
thing; however, composition studies must also realize its own social, historical, and 
institutional situatedness in order to critique how one defines a student's necessary 
completion. Consequently, a greater emphasis on etic or "experience-distant" modes of 
observation provides composition studies with methods that seek the knowledges that 
student writers already possess — the knowledges, meanings, and practices of students 


that reside outside of composition studies. These are knowledges and practices that can 
be observed and interpreted by compositionists in order to re-think the discipline's own 
ideas and material practices, which perhaps already assume too great a familiarity with 
students and what students need. Composition, then, would gain new modes of 
understanding and practices by allying itself with anthropological and ethnographic 
methods that "revise our own conceptual framework(s) by introducing alternative ways 
of understanding the world, by putting conceptual frameworks in dialogue and tension 
with one another" (Gorzelsky 60). That is, the boundaries and classificatory systems in 
which we place students need to be re-examined and, in many cases, replaced. But 
instead of simply standing in the ashes of our deconstructions, we must think about 
creations and re-creations of student writers as well as, most importantly, how these 
various versions of student writers — old and new— circulate in and out of composition 
studies, how they shift, change, move, and disrupt our perspectives and the larger 
discipline itself. In other words, we might concentrate on how composition studies 
fluctuates, flows, travels, and how it grasps, dispenses, and forms (new and old) 

Keeping Things Strange: Distance Not Immersion 

What gets better is the precision with which we vex each other. 

— Clifford Geertz 

Ed Corbett, in his essay "Teaching Composition: Where We've Been and Where 

We're Going," laments his (supposed) ineffective teaching: 

If I were dragged before the Inquisition, I would have to confess that I do 
not seem to be doing my students much good. I do not turn my good 
writers into excellent writers; and I do not detect that my bad writers are 


any less bad at the end of the term. It has become increasingly difficult for 
me to cash my paycheck every month. After all these years, I still believe 
that writing can get taught, and for that reason, I keep flailing around in 
the composition classroom. But am I really teaching any of my students 
how to write? Maybe all of us composition teachers need to ask ourselves 
this question. (452) 

Many of us in composition studies (and a great many more not in composition studies) 

often ponder the effectiveness of the teaching of writing; some, for instance, often argue 

that writing cannot be taught at all, and others debate whether composition should be a 

required course. However, any notion about the "ineffectiveness" of composition studies 

and the performances of its students is based in large part on how the discipline makes its 

meanings and practices and, most importantly, on how the composition studies functions 

by (1) relying on an evolutionary model of writing theories and pedagogies and (2) 

assuming too great a familiarity with student writers. 

In Constructing Knowledges Dobrin contends, "Because of their evolutionary 

quality, theories are not usually seen in terms of true or false; rather, new theories are 

seen as more adequate or more usefully explanations of phenomena for which past 

theories could not account. . . . Thus, the real value of theory has been its evolutionary, 

generative power, its ability to adapt and change over time" (9). Composition studies is 

thought of as "evolutionary," and even teleological at times, but unfortunately, what 

"evolves" and "progresses" are the theories of writing themselves and not our 

examinations of student writers; thus, it is no surprise that many compositionists like to 

label the discipline such things as "discourse studies" in order to shed its associations 

with students. Compositionists, moreover, often complicate (and see as progressing) the 

meanings of the discipline by addressing in their research such theorists and scholars as 

Michel Foucault, Luce Irigaray, Jacques Derrida, Fredric Jameson, and Julia Kristeva, for 


instance, but the discipline's understanding of the student writer has changed very little in 
relation to the theories and pedagogies of writing themselves. This is not to say that 
composition studies does not benefit by incorporating such theorists into the field; 
however, I contend that these kinds of theorists do not assist composition studies if they 
do not help compositionists recognize the (material and ideational) complexity of student 
writers, and, in particular, the ways in which student writers are observed and represented 
in light of these theories. That is, if composition studies is "evolving," its theories of 
writing and theories of student writers have "evolved" on different paths, thereby 
splitting in unproductive ways those two aspect of composition studies that should always 
be examined in conjunction with one another. The evolutionary model of composition 
studies, additionally, puts composition's meanings and knowledges more in competition 
with each other than in conversation — meanings that are always trying to supersede other 
meanings by becoming the "next big thing" in the discipline. Ann Berthoff writes, "An 
idea which one year is everywhere hailed and celebrated vanishes the next without a 
trace. In its place appears another which may or may not be consonant, may or may not 
be antithetical. The new idea is not introduced in the context of preceding discussion, 
perhaps because its time in the spotlight is limited" (279). Furthermore, Kurt Spellmeyer 
notes that "the value of most knowledge rapidly decays once the luster of it novelty has 
dimmed. For this reason, the power of the knowledge class lies in the production of 
estrangement rather than in the preservation of stability" (901 ). We perceive how the 
field changes from year to year, recognizing new theories and pedagogies as somehow 
evolutionary, but we often fail to perceive that our understandings of student writers do 
not move as quickly. Thus, frustrations such as Corbett's, for instance, may derive 


partially from watching the discipline change so rapidly without any recognition of how 

these "evolutionary changes" are connected to student writers themselves, students whom 

he feels are not benefitting from his instructional practices. In other words, theories 

change but the student writer, through which these theories should be derived in the first 

place, remain relatively static. Students still occupy a fairly stagnate place in 

composition studies as individuals who are "empty" and "naive" vessels and should 

somehow become completed by theories and practices, those which are always becoming 

"new and improved." 

Composition studies, consequently, needs to begin de-familiarizing itself with its 

understandings of student writers — the ways student writers are categorized — and begin 

recognizing the places in which student writers reside outside of composition studies, 

other realms and spaces in which they are (in)forming themselves. Compositionists 

might loosely follow the lead of numerous social and cultural anthropologists who, as 

Michael Donham notes, 

have used portraits of other cultures to reflect upon their own practices — 
to disrupt our common sense, to disorient our moral certainties, and, in 
general, to place in doubt much of what we have always assumed as 
simply given. Anthropologists attempting to accomplish these ends have 
had to construct other cultural worlds — that is, write ethnography — in 
enough density and detail to overcome the initial resistances set up by 
their own cultural conditioning. (2) 

Composition studies, then, according to such strategies, might push for theories and 

modes of observation that look beyond composition studies itself, beyond the shared 

understandings and practices that involve student writers, and beyond what is accepted as 

"studenthood" in composition studies in order to get at the greater "density and detail" of 

student writers. What is familiar needs to be seen in terms of un-established knowledges 


and what is unfamiliar needs to be seen in terms of already established knowledges. 

Therefore, compositionists should begin examining unexplored discourses and practices 

of students, discourses and practices that inform, shape, and construct students but have 

not shaped the meanings and practices of composition studies. In Works and Lives: The 

Anthropologist as Author, Clifford Geertz asserts, 

Seeing through to the foundations of strange-looking lives — "being there" 
in the general sense — cannot be achieved by personal immersion in them. 
It can only be achieved by subjecting the cultural productions (myths, arts, 
rituals, or whatever), the things that give these lives their immediate look 
of strangeness, to a universalizing analysis that, in dissolving the 
immediacy, dissolves the strangeness. What is remote close up is, at a 
remove, near. (48) 

Whether compositionists consider themselves theorists or practitioners, they are always 

in some sense interested in how students produce and interpret various kinds of 

discourses. However, compositionists must also consider how they themselves produce 

and interpret various kinds of student writers in their discourses and pedagogies. Thus, 

composition studies may appropriate Donham's and Geertz 's passages to its own modes 

of observation — near and distant. These spatial metaphors are not meant to be taken 

literally, however; instead, we should purposely make strange — distant — our various 

understandings of student writers, and we should constantly try to de- familiarize 

ourselves with students by invoking strangeness. That is, rather than look for ways to 

immerse ourselves in student cultures that exist outside of composition studies — which 

might mean trying to incorporate and neutralize them — we should keep observing and 

representing from afar. 

Robert Brooke, for example, argues in "Underlife and Writing Instruction" that 

students often misbehave (take part in an "underlife") in the classroom in order to assert 


that they — their identities — are different than those assigned to them by the teacher and 
the institution because "No one but the complete fanatic completely associates herself 
with only one role — instead, the self is formed in the distance one takes from the roles 
one is assigned" (232). Brooke believes that students must begin to see themselves as 
writers instead of just "students" or "student writers": "What is at stake is who the 
individuals in the classroom will be. Student underlife primarily attempts to assert that 
the individuals who play the role of students are not only students, that there is more to 
them than that" (239). Brooke's concept of underlife prods compositionists to recognize 
students by the various ways in which they are not just students; however, Brooke 
concentrates his attention on student activities within classroom environments. 
Compositionists, nevertheless, should not be concerned only with the ways "students are 
not just students" in the classroom but also with the ways "students are not just students" 
outside of the classroom and outside of composition studies' accepted beliefs and 

In her article, "The Politics of Place: Student-Travelers and Pedagogical Maps," 
Julie Drew argues that the figure of the student 

resonates within the culture as the novice, young and as yet un(in)formed. 
Any attempt to construct a pedagogy based on such an unexamined 
understanding of student is necessarily saddled with such cultural baggage 
and is therefore likely to exclude most knowledges and experiences 
outside classroom walls. But students pass through, and only pause 
briefly within, classrooms; they dwell within and visit various other 
locations, locations whose politics and discourse conventions both 
construct and identify them. ("Politics" 60) 

Keeping students afar first begins with the recognition that students are never simply just 

students in any location. 4 Compositionists, then, might begin looking toward these other 

locations, those locations in which compositionists themselves are strangers and 


outsiders. In other words, compositionists might start engaging more etic modes of 
observations in those cultures, spaces, and practices in which students are both 
comfortable and uncomfortable inhabitants. However, these sometimes "strange" 
cultures, spaces, and practices should function dialectically with those knowledges and 
practices already accepted by composition studies. That is, emic and etic modes of 
observation and understanding — "experience-near" and "experience-distant" 
perspectives — should always work together, always informing one another in order to 
present fluctuating and circulating versions of student writers. Such dialectical 
interpenetrations will affect not only ways of seeing — ways of observing — but also 
textual and pedagogical practices and the overall meanings and workings of composition 
studies as well, in both its theoretical and pedagogical aspects and prerogatives. That is, 
composition studies moves and changes but does not evolve. It may be as recursive and 
regressive as it is expeditious and progressive, and it may be more ecological and less 

Composition studies, in brief, is a discipline that needs to look "here" and "there," 
a discipline which needs to examine the ways in which students produce and interpret 
discourse in the various sites and locations in which they "dwell" — in the classroom and 
"elsewhere." Only then can compositionists devise theories and practices that get at the 
knowledges and forms of authority and empowerment that students already possess rather 
than the ones they lack. Consequently, composition studies can then become a discipline 
not of hierarchical relations between teachers and students but one that consists of 
conversations, explorations, and juxtapositions across cultural elements and entities— all 
of which is meant to recognize the importance of ever-changing representations and 


relationships. Corbett's lamentations may never cease completely; however, the lenses 
through which the student writers are experienced, seen, and understood do shape the 
languages, perceptions, encounters, and associations between compositionists and student 
writers, encounters and relationships that help compositionists understand better how 
students write, how we would like them to write, how they are written in our own 
theoretical and pedagogical texts, and how we may recognize that composition studies as 
made up of various processes doesn't "evolve" but simply changes and shifts its ideas 
and practices. In discussing student writers I have focused an equal amount of attention 
on compositionists and composition studies as a discipline. This is not meant to take the 
emphases away from student writers but instead to assert that no understanding of student 
writers for composition studies can be derived in a vacuum, no knowledges of student 
writers can exist entirely apart from their placement in the discipline as well as the ways 
in which they have been placed there by compositionists. Donald Donham correctly 
states, "Like all systems of thought that operate by contrasting 'us' and 'them,' when it 

gets 'them' wrong, it also gets 'us' wrong Know what an anthropologist thinks his 

own society is and you know — by negation — what he will say about whatever tribe he 
happens to be studying" (14). My analyses of student writers, then, as they occur in 
subsequent chapters, will be contextualized by my own understandings of composition 
studies' disciplinary meanings and practices. I hope to expand our sense of possibilities 
in composition studies but also argue that this cannot be done without escalating and 
intensifying our investigations of student writers. 



1 This refers to many of the questions posed by postmodern ethnographers such as 
George Marcus, James Clifford, and Vincent Crapazano, as I discusses in chapter one. 
My purpose, however, is not to solve such a dilemma but instead to begin moving beyond 
questions of classroom ethnography — as discussed in the Voices & Visions collection — in 
order to look at the larger processes that shape and re-shape composition studies. 

2 For a recent discussion of the ways that Davidson's theories have entered composition 
studies, see Thomas Kent, ed., Post-Process Theory: Beyond the Writing Process 
Paradigm (Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1999). 

3 For a more detailed discussion of emics and etics, see Thomas N. Headland, Kenneth L. 
Pike, and Marvin Harris, Emics and Etics: The Insider/Outsider Debate (Newbury Park, 
CA: Sage, 1990). 

4 For more conversations about this notion of traveling and the space that students 
occupy, see Julie Drew, "Cultural Tourism and the Commodified Other: Reclaiming 
Difference in the Multicultural Classroom," The Review of Education/Pedagogy/ Cultural 
Studies 19 (1997): 297-309. Patricia Yaeger, "The Strange Effects of Ordinary Space," 
The Geography of Identity, Ed. Patricia Yaeger (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1 996). 
Nedra Reynolds, "Composition's Imagined Geographies: The Politics of Space in the 
Frontier, City, and Cyberspace," College Composition and Communication 50.1 (1998): 
12-35. From a more anthropological perspective, see James Clifford, "Traveling 
Cultures," Cultural Studies, Eds. Lawrence Grossberg, Cary Nelson, and Paula Treichler 
(New York: Routledge, 1992. 96-1 16). 




Determining Composition Studies: Power and Influence 

One of the most striking changes we find when examining the development of rhetoric in 
American colleges over the last two hundred years lies not in the theory or even the 

pedagogy' of rhetoric, but in its status. 
— Robert Connors, Composition-Rhetoric: Backgrounds, Theory, and Pedagogy 

Debates about the identity of composition studies have progressed well beyond 
simple arguments over the "right" or "wrong" kinds of writings that students should 
compose; composition studies, instead, has become a discipline whose meanings and 
identity cannot be found and shaped in only one particular theoretical or pedagogical 
arena. Despite the complexity of the formation and movement of something called 
composition studies, the premise of many of the "identity" debates in the discipline, 
however, rests on certain assumptions about the power of the compositionist, the power 
that a compositionist has to shape the discipline— regardless of whether he or she argues 
for the primacy of theory or practice. What I am suggesting, in other words, is this: 
typically those who debate composition's identity assume too quickly that the discipline 
is fashioned and re-fashioned, built and re-built, in large part by teachers and theorists of 
composition themselves, that professionals in the field struggle for and against various 



theoretical perspectives and critical positions in an attempt to guide composition studies 
in a certain direction. That is, in short, compositionists engage in hegemonic struggles 
over composition's direction and identity, all of which supposedly determine the course 
of composition studies' theories, practices, values, and meanings — its identity. 

In response to Wendy Bishop's criticisms of and frustration with theoretical 
"jargon" in composition studies and her arguments that favor composition studies as a 
field comprised of "teacher- writers," Gary A. Olson suggests that "Since the beginnings 
of composition as a field, we all have been struggling over how to define it, over its heart 
and soul. . . . We all wish to convince others that our way of seeing the world is best; 
that's the basis of hegemonic struggle, of democracy, of rhetoric itself (39-40).' Olson 
also clarifies this point by acknowledging Chantal Mouffe's distinction between 
"enemies" and "adversaries": Enemies, according to Mouffe, always try to destroy each 
other, while adversaries, on the other hand, value and respect their opponents' right to 
defend certain positions and opinions, and, therefore, composition studies' future is about 
"whether we as individuals will position ourselves as 'enemies' or as 'adversaries' in this 
struggle" (Olson 40). Olson asserts correctly that theorists and teachers of writing 
should resist those avenues which lead them to become "enemies" attempting to abolish 
each other, enemies trying to wipe each other off the disciplinary map. 

Olson and Bishop, despite their differences of opinion and their enormous 
contributions to the field, nevertheless, each conceive of composition studies as a 
discipline determined in large part by people like themselves, the "Boss 
Compositionists," to use James Sledd's phrase, who "have been complicit in the wider 
society's division into bosses and bossed, and they have been so conditioned that they 


enact the values of the wider society even as they denounce them" (25). Sledd, in short, 

criticizes those who have readily accepted and acquiesced to the formation of 

composition studies as a strictly hierarchical discipline, another field of study where 

"Gold-star professors look down on the unstarred, professors of both varieties look down 

on associate professors, all the tenured look down on the untenured, the untenured but 

tenurable look down on assorted underlings, and [so forth]" (26). Although our system of 

tenure and promotion in English studies in general is problematic, I am not interested in 

taking up such questions here. Instead, I wish to examine how the term "boss 

compositionist" might also be used to label those in the field whose work we not only 

admire but whose work we assume gives composition studies its ultimate disciplinary 

direction, guidance, and meaning. Gary Olson's article demonstrates how many 

"leaders" in composition studies, people such as Olson himself and Wendy Bishop, often 

imply in their various and distinct arguments that composition studies — in its numerous 

"hegemonic struggles" — is manipulated, created, and changed mainly by teachers and 

scholars of writing, that there are few other important influences on the discipline that 

resonate with the same magnitude as the knowledges, practices, and ideas created by the 

"professional" voices in the discipline. Olson writes, 

My own sense of how rhetoric best works, how one can persuade one's 
colleagues that a certain way of defining the world is superior [comes 
about] . . . through dialogue, through persuasion, and, finally, through 

mutual respect Wendy [Bishop] wants creative writers to "matter," 

and I want composition studies to matter as an intellectual discipline. I 
don't begrudge Wendy's attempt to swing the discipline in a certain 

direction, and she shouldn't begrudge me the same it's about the 

future of composition as a discipline. (40) 

Olson discusses how theorists (and "teacher-writers") attempt to "swing the discipline" 

and dictate the future of composition studies. In some sense, this is a completely 


reasonably way of thinking. I mean, there are, of course, leaders in the field — scholars 
who raise and answer important disciplinary questions, individuals whom we rely on to 
facilitate important and necessary conversations, and people who take charge in the 
production of composition studies' numerous books, articles, and conferences, for 
instance. However, we might begin to consider in new ways how compositionists 
themselves are not so much the sole proprietors, knowledge generators, and rainmakers 
who "swing" the discipline but individuals whose work is a. function of the discipline, a 
function that interacts with the numerous other factors which influence the formation and 
identity of composition studies. 

Michael Murphy, for instance, in "After Progressivism: Modern Composition, 
Institutional Service, and Cultural Studies," contends that composition studies' service 
ethic — derived from a larger institutional and social context — is so deeply enmeshed in 
the discipline that even the most radical teachers and theorists (inevitably) have to think 

and function from within this institutional paradigm, whether they like it and know it or 

not. Murphy, in particular, criticizes James Berlin as one whose work does not escape 
the confines of composition's service ethic: 

All that is potentially radical about Berlin's deployment of "social 
epistemic rhetoric" . . . seems to me in this way quickly coopted by its 
implicit association with composition's progressivist baggage. The 
progressivist discourse of educational democracy ... is so fundamental a 
part of the language of composition scholarship that it can effectively 
underwrite the work of even as guarded an anti-foundationalist as Berlin. 
. . . Berlin's discourse of essentialized democracy reenlists composition in 
the service of the institution by ignoring differences between contesting 
social interests in favor of some "greater good for all," his corresponding 
vision of classroom practice also serves, I think, to make students 
impotent in the larger economy of cultural politics. (355-56) 2 


Compositionists' debates and arguments — such as those by Olson, Bishop, and Berlin, 
just to name a few — often neglect to comprehend that the compositionists' own powers 
of disciplinary persuasion, influence, and understanding can only go so far, as far as they 
enmesh with other "powers" and "forces" that manipulate composition studies — in both 
its theories and practices. Sharon Crowley, furthermore, argues, "Even though teachers 
who espouse current-traditional rhetoric, or process, or some other approach to teaching 
composition may assume that their practice is governed purely by personal preference, or 
expediency, or tradition, or lore, it remains true that pedagogies and practices are 
implicated in the politics of the institutions in which they work and with the ideologies 
that are in wider circulation as well" (217). 3 

Compositionists' work is no doubt embedded in the "politics of institutions" and 
other social, cultural, and political forces, and in order to understand such networks of 
power in which composition teachers and theorists operate, compositionists need only 
remind themselves of the public furor which took place over the freshman writing 
curriculum at the University of Texas at Austin in the early 1990s. In the spring of 1990 
the freshman writing committee at UT designed "Writing about Difference," a course 
which asked students to read a number of court cases in which "plaintiffs had run afoul of 
some practice that elided their difference(s) from other members of groups with whom 
they work or associated" (Crowley 229). The selected cases were meant to raise issues 
about and awareness of what it means to be defined "differently" from mainstream 
American culture. The syllabus proposed that students, for instance, discuss and write 
argumentatively about these cases and also work both by themselves and in larger groups. 
Faculty both inside and outside the English Department as well as others outside the 


academy argued stridently against the implementation of this syllabus, most suggesting 

that the focus on "difference" was an indoctrination of students into a "politically 

correct" mindset. I do not mean here to review all of the particulars of this (very public) 

argument about the University of Texas's writing program, particularly since others have 

done so already. 4 What is important here, however, is the way that composition and 

rhetoric departments — more than most other academic departments — are regarded as the 

province of a much larger community that extends well beyond those whose professional 

identities are associated with the discipline. 

Regardless of the number of times compositionists teach writing courses, present 

conference papers, write articles and books, hold departmental meetings about writing 

programs, and argue with administrators about the direction of writing curriculums and 

the students therein, compositionists themselves, however, play only a partial role in 

developing the shape of rhetoric and composition in the classroom as well as in its 

theoretical discourses, for instance. Composition theorists and teachers no doubt discuss 

and theorize both the external and internal factors that affect students' abilities to write, 

read, and think; they also, however, dispute the factors and forces that affect not only 

students but also composition studies as a discipline that is situated within certain social, 

cultural, and institutional settings. Thus, no one factor can solely determine the 

discipline. Compositionists, nonetheless, often neglect certain vital areas of study that 

would provide them greater insight into the processes, workings, and identity of 

composition studies. James Marshall notes, 

But though we have been fairly successful at seeing what happens within 
our classrooms, we have often failed to acknowledge that those 
classrooms are nested within schools, those schools within communities, 
and those communities within larger networks of cultural and political life. 


In not addressing those larger contexts, or at least not addressing them 
very often, we have left out of our picture of writing instruction some of 
the forces that are most powerfully shaping it. (54) 

I discussed already in chapter two the ways in which (constructions of) student writers 

themselves can and do (sometimes unknowingly) formulate, create, and help shape 

composition studies as a discipline, one with its own theories, knowledges, and practices. 

In doing so, I have tried to investigate an area of influence in composition studies that 

has, according to Marshall, been "left out of the picture." This discussion of student 

writers — the way student writers affect the discipline as much as the discipline affects 

student writers — can, however, be complicated further by looking more closely at student 

writers' influences on the discipline, the way student writers filter into the discipline and 

aid in the shaping and politicizing of composition studies' identity as an academic field of 

study. In particular, I shall examine the way student writers are entangled not only in the 

theoretical and pedagogical discourses of composition studies but also enmeshed in a 

larger cultural category that complicates their own identities as well as that of 

composition studies — Youth. 

"Youth," Lawrence Grossberg states, "is the last and almost always ignored 

category in the traditional list of subordinated populations (servants— i.e., racial and 

colonized minorities, women and children) who, in the name of protection, are silenced" 

(Qtd. in Giroux "Public Pedagogy" 9). In Fugitive Cultures Henry Giroux, however, 

clarifies that "youth" is not simply a demographic category in which we can place people 

who fall between certain age groups but, instead, that youth is "a complex social 

formation to be analyzed, interpreted, engaged within the largely repressive apparatus of 

youth socialization" (15). The fact that the majority of students in college— those who 


take composition and rhetoric classes — are young people engaged in certain "complex 

social formations" does, no doubt, affect the ways these individuals read and write as 

well as the ways those of us in composition both theorize and teach these students. In 

examining the "external" factors that affect and shape the practices of both student 

writers and compositionists (as well as the forces that affect composition studies as a 

discipline), composition scholars and teachers have not only neglected how student 

writers affect and shape composition studies (as I argued in chapter two) but also how our 

understandings and constructions of youth — and lack thereof — have affected our own 

practices, theories, and disciplinary identity. Sharon Crowley asserts that 

The academic discourses that affect or have affected composition 
instruction include liberal education, humanism, general education, and 
progressivism, as well as the discursive practices of testing, grading, and 
ranking; the cultural discourses that affect composition include those of 
literacy, class, and race. This is to say, composition is administered and 
taught in a much thicker discursive network than are many other academic 
courses. (259) 

Although one cannot reasonably expect Crowley to list here every "cultural discourse" 

that somehow affects composition studies, composition students, and composition 

teachers and theorists themselves, Crowley's list is indicative of the field's rare 

willingness to acknowledge youth as an important and necessary area of examination. 

The rest of this chapter explores the ways that youth — and something called youth 

culture — have been missing in most composition scholarship, as well as the ways that this 

absence has not been particularly noticed or theorized. Additionally, I investigate more 

closely the way that theories of youth have been left out of recent and important debates 

in composition about the authority of student writers and their texts. 


Re-Writing Student Writers: Toward a Theory of Authorship 

Students in those freshman courses taken to be at the center of composition studies are 
socially and politically imagined as children whose Victorian innocence retains a tainted 
need for 'civilizing. ' Institutional practices toward them . . . treat them as emerging, or 
as failed, but never as actually responsible "authors. " 

— Susan Miller, Textual Carnivals 

Scholars and teachers of composition have been acutely aware that the 

denigration of composition studies by other disciplines and fields of study (namely by 

literature departments and faculty) has focused on composition's ties to texts produced by 

"students" rather than the professional, creative, or literary texts written by "authors," as 

Susan Miller suggests above. Composition studies' academic depravity, that is, derives 

from its association with the "low" or "basic" texts written by students rather than the 

"high," "complex," or "aesthetic" texts composed by real authors. James Sledd, 

nonetheless, argues that compositionists should happily embrace these designations, that 

composition studies is a discipline defined by its service to student writers — not to 

authors — and that composition studies should not strive to become an "intellectual" 

discipline defined and justified solely by its theories. Those who eschew composition 

studies' connections with student writing, according to Sledd, are merely searching for 

academic status and upward mobility. Sledd writes, "I make no apologies for undignified 

concern with maligned Freshman English, a course whose careful teaching is infinitely 

more important than the further development of 'composition theory'" (11), and, he 

continues, "Composition studies — the plantation culture of compositionists — can thus be 

best understood if the unpromising attempt at intellectual justification is abandoned" (21). 


Others in the field such as Susan Miller, however, believe that compositionists 
need to re-theorize the "student writer" entirely in order to empower student writers and 
student writing — thereby, in turn, also empowering the status and identity of 
compositionists and composition studies as a whole. Scholars and teachers of writing, 
this is to say, need a "redefinition of student writing and of the subjectivity of the student 
writer [because] . . . powerful attitudes toward student writers and unprivileged writing 
inevitably control the status of composition studies, its relations to those outside it, and its 
self-images and ways of working out its new pro fessionalization" (191-95). In other 
words, definitions, understandings, and metaphors of student writers determine the 
identity of compositionists and composition studies as much as, if not more than, what 
compositionists themselves practice, teach, theorize, and write. 

Composition studies' service ethos — the focus on teaching students the "skills and 
drills" of academic discourse — has been under attack from a number of other theoretical 
positions as well. Morris Young, for instance, criticizes composition studies' connection 
with "service" because such a connection only "serves" to reproduce certain (dominant) 
communities, values, and politics of academic institutions: "Too often the classroom has 
been constructed as a site for reproduction; students are trained in standard academic 
discourses; they deploy these discourses as part of required practice; they become 
participants in a community, often reproducing the practices of that community" (52). 
Young and others see the role of the writing teacher as facilitator of resistance to these 
traditional academic values. In other words, teachers of writing should no longer initiate 
students into "academic discourses" but instead should provide students with the 
knowledge that "to participate in public life and to use public language is not to lose part 


of themselves. Instead they theorize their roles as writers and their place in the Nation 

because they recognize that they are cultural workers and already live literate lives" (70). 

This is meant, in short, to dissociate the concept of "student writer" from terms such as 

"basic" and "beginning," terms which signify students as writers of texts that have no real 

consequences for anyone except the student and no ramifications that extend beyond the 

classroom walls. 6 

Compositionists such as Susan Miller, Min-Zhan Lu, Bruce Horner, and Joe 

Hardin have argued specifically that the rigid distinction between student writer and 

author must collapse in order for student writing to have more power and "author"ity. 

This binary, in other words, must be torn down in order for student writing to begin 

escaping and resisting the various dominant institutional values and discourses. Bruce 

Horner argues that student texts can resist the institutional paradigms already in place and 

have important social and material consequences instead: 

There is also the dominant's denial of the materiality of writing, which we 
can see operating in the binaries distinguishing art from mechanical craft 
and the academic from the "real," part of a chain of binaries linked to the 
Author/student writer and the individual/social binaries. . . . Failure to 
locate student work materially can interfere with the best intentions of 
teachers to locate student writing in the social. (506) 

For Horner, "locating" the "materiality of student writing," then, not only helps move 

student texts into social realms, but it also makes sure that student writing does not 

simply serve an acculturative function of the university, that is, that it does not simply 

demonstrate the "standards" of academic discourse that have already been set by the 

traditional, dominant values of the institution. Thus, teachers of writing become 

facilitators of critical consciousness and writing rather than mere gatekeepers and 

guardians of certain types of university standards. 7 This is to say, as Joe Hardin notes, 


"students in the writing classroom have the potential to engage in real production of 

cultural texts instead of merely writing documents that certify their readiness for 

academic work or that demonstrate their effectiveness at mounting standard classroom 

critiques" (53). Hardin continues a critique of the rigidity of the author/student writer 

binary that exists both inside and outside of the academy: 

Clearly, the future of pedagogical methods that hope to challenge the 
traditional acculturative nature of the writing class lies in the movement to 
resist the barriers that keep student writing from having real authority in 
the class, in the academy, and in national culture. However, if student 
writing is to have real material effects, both in the lives of the students and 
in academic and in national culture, then compositionists must develop 
strategies to expose, critique, resist the way academic culture constructs 
textual authority. Composition does, in fact, occupy a strategic site within 
the academy for the empowerment of students, for it is the place where 
student texts may be foregrounded as actual work. In order to increase the 
authority of that work, we need to find ways to help each student further 
historicize his or her place within the acculturative moment of the writing 
class in order to emphasize the dialectical, the conflicting, and the social. 

Hardin and others suggest that student writing ought to have more authority, that it ought 

to be composed and conceived of as "actual work" — as opposed to mere academic 

exercises. Collapsing the author/student writer binary is, nevertheless, tricky business. 

That is, compositionists such as Horner and Hardin attempt to help student writers divest 

themselves of those numerous discourse conventions, labels, and stereotypes that relegate 

their texts to academic dustpans, where instructors collect and place other meaningless 

and trivial academic endeavors such as the take-home test, the vocabulary quiz, and the 

multiple choice exam (all of which are also thought to have no real material and social 


I agree with scholars such as Hardin, Horner, and Miller that the reproduction of 

elitist, exclusionary, dominant, and academic discourses in the composition classroom 


problematizes and abolishes students' textual authority, that the "personal" in such 
courses becomes "immune to the play of the social" and becomes "another passive 
register of the social" (Horner 325). In other words, the reproduction of these discourses 
merely enacts the dominant paradigms that have already constructed students as passive 
and naive beginners. Composition scholars who have theorized the author/student 
binary — those especially who have sought to deconstruct this binary — have done so by 
arguing for the materiality of writing, by investigating how student writing can have real 
effects both inside and outside the classroom and the academy. However, these scholars 
have promoted the "authority" of students and student texts without investigating the 
ways in which cultural and social categories and discourses of youth have kept student 
writing "unauthorized" and dispatched to the marginalized spaces of the academy. 

This is all to say, composition teachers and scholars cannot theorize a transition 
from student writer to author without examining how discourses and concepts of youth, 
on the one hand, have hindered this movement but also, on the other hand, how 
discourses and concepts of youth may help make this transition a successful one. In 
short, those terms associated with student writers such as "basic," "beginner," "naive," 
and "passive" as well as other important terms such as "critical," "author," "academic," 
"social," "cultural," "personal," and "material" — just to name a few key terms that help 
construct the student writer/author binary — cannot be investigated thoroughly without a 
keen eye toward the ways that discourses of youth have helped shape and made rigid the 
various terms listed above, both inside and outside of composition studies. In other 
words, scholarship in composition studies that attempts to "authorize" students and 
student writing by theorizing the construction and deconstruction of the student 


writer/author binary has neglected to consider the importance of youth in these 
frameworks, the ways in which youth has helped build this binary in the first place as 
well as the ways more thorough studies of youth may help tear it down. These scholars 
also have tended to neglect investigating what this transition does not only for students 
but for the status and identity of composition studies in general, which I shall discuss 
throughout the rest of this project. 

Where Are All the Youth?: Student Writers, Authors, and Cultural Gaps in 
Composition Studies 

But as soon as the young American begins to approach man 's state, the reins of filial 
obedience are daily slackened. Master of his thoughts, he soon becomes responsible for 
his own behavior. In America there is, in truth, no adolescence. At the close of boyhood, 
he is a man and begins to trace out his own path. 

— Alexis De Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1835) 

/ 7n only an adolescent, so I 'm not responsible for what I do. 

— Holden Caulfied, Catcher in the Rye ( 1 95 1 ) 

Youth and adolescence have changed dramatically, it seems, in the 116 years 

between De Tocqueville's and Salinger's writings. Callow indifference, laziness, and 

pessimism in the twentieth century replaced the pioneering independence and 

industriousness of young people in America in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries — 

or so it appears. This supposed change in young people's attitudes and moral and ethical 

characters has held strong in the popular imagination, particularly as a form of nostalgia 

for the way things "used to be." That is, a tendency exists among the older generations to 

malign the present state of youth while, at the same time, idealizing the past generations 

of young people. This practice, however, is not new. Even the ancient Greeks, despite 

their many idealizations of youth, in many instances looked negatively upon the ephebe, 


an upper-class young man who had finished several years of schooling and who was 
supposed to receive military training. An ephebe was well known and criticized for his 
dissolute behavior: drunkeness, violence, and destruction, for example. 8 At one point, 
the Athenians even passed a law which forbade young people from beating their parents. 
Fear of and indignation against young people — despite De Tocqueville's confident 
evaluations and observations in the nineteenth century — seem to have been passed down 
quite smoothly from the ancient Greeks to America today, therein disrupting and 
debunking these various nostalgic visions of the past, those which construct the past as a 
brighter place for young people and a safer place for adults. 

The Greek poet Hesiod, for example, declared in 700 BC that there is "no hope 
for the future of our people if they are to be dependent upon the frivolous youth of today, 
for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words, exceeding wise and impatient of 
restraint." In England in 1554, London alderman were ordered "to have a vigilant eye . . . 
to the inhabitants and specially to the young" (Bridgen 539) and an English statute of 
1563 warned of the "licentious liberty of youth," accepting that "until a man grow unto 
the age of twenty-four years he ... is wild, without judgement [sic] and not of sufficient 
experience to govern himself (Thomas 2 1 7). Increase Mather stated in 1 700 that "if the 
body of the present generation be compared with what was here forty years ago, what a 
sad degeneracy is evident." One American scholar proclaimed in 1935 that the younger 
generation, "numbering in the millions, has gone so far in decay that it acts without 
thought of social responsibility [and] is even now rotting before our eyes." 9 And, in 1997 
President Clinton remarked, "We know we've got about six years to turn this juvenile 
crime thing around, or our country is going to be living in chaos" (Hine 1 8). These are 


merely a few examples; however, blaming young people for a society's moral collapse 
and ethical deprivation has become commonplace — and perhaps it always has been. 
Mike A. Males eloquently captures a common sentiment of today: "Like Cub Scouts 
around a nighttime forest campfire terrifying themselves with embellished slasher tales, 
latter-day grownup America delights in horror stories about suburban stone-killer 
kids" (9). 

Turning young people into the scapegoats of society's dilemmas not only 
essentializes, simplifies, and fictionalizes the current generation of young people, it also 
neglects to examine in any depth the way youth is created by and enmeshed in certain 
kinds of social and cultural formations. That is, these stereotypes also fail to 
acknowledge how youth itself may be a type of social and cultural invention. "The 
politics of culture," Henry Giroux argues, "provide the conceptual space in which 
childhood is constructed, experienced, and struggled over. Culture is the primary terrain 
in which adults exercise power over children both ideologically and institutionally. . . . 
[childhood] is a historical construction. It is also a cultural and political category that has 
very practical consequences for how adults 'think about children'; and it has 
consequences for how children view themselves" (Stealing 4-5). Many like Giroux have 
argued voraciously that we need to escape the cruel stereotypes and myths that culturally 
construct young people, in some cases, as "innocent" and others as "trouble," as nothing 
more than no-good criminals, immoral sex-fiends and drug users, and uncontrollable 
pleasure seekers. I0 However necessary it may be to abrogate these stereotypes, doing so 
does not necessarily put us on stable ground, in a firm place where understandings and 
portraits of youth are somehow apparent, lucid, and more truthful. In other words, 


studying and defining youth always present numerous difficulties because "youth" is 

necessarily characterized in opposition to something called "adulthood," another slippery 

term. Youth and adulthood, that is, each identify themselves against the other. Thus, 

since understandings and definitions of adulthood change not only from generation to 

generation but change according to different social, cultural, and political discourses 

within any given era, it is, therefore, even more difficult to construct a clear and accurate 

understanding of young people — and the meaning of something called "youth." 

In his essay "Youth, Culture and Modernity," Johan Fornas explains that the 

difficulty in delimiting youth exists because there are so many different analytical and 

interpretive tools with which one might try to do so: 

Youth is ... a physiological development phase, commencing in puberty 
and ending when the body has more or less finished growing. On the 
other hand, it is a psychological life phase extending through different 

phases of adolescence and post-adolescence Youth is also a social 

category, framed by particular social institutions — especially school, but 
certain rituals as well such as confirmation or marriage, legislation 
directed toward age limits and coming of age, and social acts such as 
leaving home, forming a family, getting educated and finding a profession. 
And . . . youth is something which is culturally determined in a discursive 
interplay with musical, visual, and verbal signs that denote what is young 
in relation to that which is interpreted as respectively childish or adult. (3) 

Youth, to summarize, is a mish-mash of biological, psychological, social, cultural, and 
political discourses. Thus, defining youth today perhaps poses more difficulty than in the 
past because we tend to do so according to a greater number of social, biological, legal, 
psychological, and cultural criteria. 

In some eras and in some cultures, youth is the period in an individual's life 
marked by one's ability (or inability) to perform certain skills, at other times and in other 
places, youth is seen as a transitional period into adulthood that ends when an individual 


completes some sort of ritualistic performance, and elsewhere, for instance, youth is 
defined by a person's reaching and passing through specified age groupings. In America 
before the twentieth century, for example, working class families based their perceptions 
and definitions of youth not on a person's age but on his or her physical size. If a 
fourteen-year-old boy looked big enough and strong enough to do a "man's work" in the 
city or on the farm, most people would view this person as an adult — as a "man," that is. 
On the other hand, if a seventeen-year-old boy was less physically developed and 
couldn't perform the duties of a "man," he, in short, was not one. Such was the same for 
women during these time periods. In order to be marriageable and ready for motherhood, 
a girl was judged according to her physical development rather than her age. In many 
cases, however, a young person — depending upon his or her social class — could exhibit 
certain skills, learning, or religious inspiration (rather than physical size and 
development) that might lead other adults to recognize his or her maturity — adulthood. 
In most cases, nevertheless, the maturity (or adult status) of a young person was judged 
individually, where age provided less for a basis of judgment than it does today. ' ' 
Nowadays, however, we often define youth according to the activities that the 
government will or will not let young people "legally" participate in. "Young people," 
for instance, might be categorized as those under sixteen because they are not allowed to 
drive an automobile, or as those under eighteen because they cannot vote, fight in a war, 
or buy cigarettes, or they may be defined as those individuals under twenty-one because 
these are the people who are not allowed to purchase alcoholic beverages. Automobile 
insurance companies, furthermore, rarely lower their premiums for males until they reach 


the age of twenty- five, therein implying that a certain youthful (and dangerous) 
immaturity still exists innately in males until they reaches their mid-twenties. 

Youth, this is all to say, is not only a social and cultural construction but a 
historical one as well — a construct that is, according to Fornas, historically and culturally 
"determined." Though I recognize that there are numerous and complex discourses that 
contribute to the construction of youth, I have chosen to focus on three cultural, social, 
and discursive arenas that I believe are most appropriate for examining youth in 
relationship to composition studies and the work that occurs in writing classrooms. I 
shall investigate the way that youth is defined and constructed by the interplay of the 
following categories, all of which have an important place in composition studies: (1) 
social and cultural rituals, (2) pop culture and other media forms, (3) academic literacy 
and the "lack" thereof I would first like to lay out each of these three briefly in order to 
begin examining ways that compositionists may re-theorize the student writer/author 
binary and, ultimately, discover how students and student writing may become more 
empowered and more credible both inside and outside the academy. This, furthermore, 
will also lead to a critique and reconsideration of some current theories and practices in 
composition studies that I take up more specifically in chapters four and five. 

American youth, compared to other societies, perform few rituals that somehow 
signify the beginning of their status as adults, those which manifest the flowering of their 
maturity. The high school senior prom, however, serves as one such ritual in which 
young people play both a fervent and active role. The prom designates the end of high 
school— a fairly common experience for American youth today— by allowing students an 
avenue to express their maturity that is not available at, say, their actual graduation 


ceremonies. For young people, the prom is expected to be a magical night that they shall 
remember for the rest of their lives. Gone are the days, however, when the prom took 
place in the high school gym and young men borrowed their father's cars for the big 
occasion. Such events, instead, are now typically held in fancy hotel ballrooms, where 
couples are chauffered there in rented limousines; boys rent tuxedos while the girls are 
expected to wear sexy gowns that make them appear as adult and mature as possible. 
The evening, in short, is quite expensive, an average couple spending nearly $1000. This 
is all to say, the prom has become not so much a young person's farewell to high school 
friends and experiences but more so a strong declaration of his or her grown-up status, a 
status that is, of course, somewhat tenuous since youth is judged according to various 
other social and cultural factors. 12 As we shall see in a moment, the freshman writing 
classroom itself also functions as a ritualized experience that most college students must 
perform in order to assert their "validity" as worthwhile learners — a ritualistic passage to 
more "advanced" studies. 

Popular culture, in its broadest sense, is often used as an umbrella term for the 
texts and practices of "everyday life," and the study of popular culture is, in addition, 
based upon the notion that these texts and practices of the everyday are not only 
important and powerful but political as well. Although I will not try to codify "popular 
culture" with some sort of an all-encompassing definition, I hope instead to provide a 
number of different takes on popular culture and ultimately show how these may affect 
student writers, their writing, and their own status in composition studies. Thus, my 
purpose is not to posit specifically what popular culture is or is not but to show how 


certain versions of popular culture help construct and affect the student writer in 

composition studies. 

More than anything else, perhaps, popular culture has been the subject of criticism 

by those who see it as a corrupting influence on young people. Popular culture, in this 

sense, signifies "low" culture that has no redeeming social, cultural, or aesthetic worth — 

it is, this is to say, not refined and elite, and, therefore, it may have debilitating 

consequences to those who consume it. Writers and social critics have long criticized 

popular culture for its debasing influence on the "masses," and particularly on young 

people. 13 In the 1950s Dwight MacDonald wrote about popular culture as "a debased, 

trivial culture that voids both the deep realities (sex, death, failure, tragedy) and also the 

simple spontaneous pleasures. . . . The masses, debauched by several generations of this 

sort of thing, in turn come to demand trivial and comfortable cultural products" (72). 

Similarly, Ernest Van den Haag argues that 

Corruption of past high culture by popular culture takes numerous forms, 
starting with direct adulteration. Bach candied by Stokowski, Bizet 
coarsened by Rodgers and Hammerstein. . . . Freud vulgarized into 
columns of newspaper correspondence advice (how to be happy though 
well-adjusted). Corruption also takes the form of mutilation and 
condensation . . . works are cut, condensed, simplified, and rewritten until 
all possibilities of unfamiliar or esthetic experiences are strained out 

More recent critics such as Neil Postman suggest that popular culture not only corrupts 

other, higher versions of culture but that it blurs the boundaries between childhood and 

adulthood, therein erasing "childhood" altogether: "Everywhere one looks, it may be seen 

that the behavior, language, attitudes, and desires — even the physical appearance — of 

adults and children are becoming increasingly indistinguishable" (4). Postman continues: 


[T]he popular arts have rarely depicted children in an authentic manner. 
We have only to think of some of the great child stars of films, such as 
Shirley Temple, Jackie Coogan, Jackie Cooper, Margaret O'Brien, and the 
harmless ruffians of the Our Gang comedies, to realize that cinema 
representations of the character and sensibility of the young have been far 
from realistic. But one could find in them, nonetheless, an ideal, a 
conception of childhood. These children dressed differently from adults 
talked differently, saw problems from a different perspective, had a 
different status, were more vulnerable. Even in the early days of 
television, on such programs as Leave It To Beaver and Father Knows 
Best, one could find children who were, if not realistically portrayed, at 
least different from adults. But most of this is gone, or at least rapidly 
going. (123) 

Postman, no doubt, mourns the loss of childhood innocence, as captured in television 

shows and movies of the 1950s and earlier — where children were presented as children, 

distinctly different from adults as they should be. For Postman, this loss of childhood — 

its "disappearance" — is directly a result of new electronic technologies such as television, 

movies, VCRs, computers, and so forth. However, this blame tends to neglect looking 

critically at questions of race, class, economics, and gender that have structured past and 

present "versions" of young people and these various media forms. Postman is certainly 

correct that contemporary television shows, commercials, and movies, for instance, often 

portray young people as unrealistically and annoyingly precocious and beyond their 

years. Postman, furthermore, spends a significant amount of time criticizing the ways 

that popular culture "corrupts" the innocence of young people, but he fails to take into 

account how such "low" forms of "entertainment" are politically and economically 

influential on young people's identities. In Stealing Innocence: Youth, Corporate Power, 

and the Politics of Culture, for example, Henry Giroux also notes some of the negative 

effects popular culture, arguing that we cannot overlook the fact that popular culture is 

linked to corporate culture and power, that much of popular culture consists of the 


constructions of market-based identities for young people. That is, popular culture 

closely ties to market culture: 

Growing up corporate has become a way of life for American youth. This 
is evident as corporate mergers consolidate control of assets and markets, 
particularly as they extend influence over the media and its management 
of public opinion. . . . Schools are being transformed into commercial 
rather than public spheres as students become subject to the whims and 
practices of marketers whose agenda has nothing to do with critical 
learning and a great deal to do with restructuring civic life in the image of 
market culture. (98-99) 

Despite a pessimistic assessment of the ways that young people form their identities and 
construct meaning in the world, Giroux unlike Postman is optimistic that these sites of 
identity formation also function as sites of critical negotiation, wherein young people 
may front their own interests, speak for themselves, and mobilize their own public 
spheres: "Rather than acknowledge that the new electronic technologies allow kids to 
immerse themselves in profoundly important forms of social communication, produce a 
range of creative expressions, and exhibit forms of agency that are both pleasurable and 
empowering, adults profoundly mistrust the new technologies — in the name of protecting 
childhood innocence" {Stealing 13). Thus, popular culture, according to Giroux — 
particularly new forms of electronic media — may function as sites of knowledge-making 
for young people, places where they might critically and purposefully construct identities 
and meanings. 

Stuart Hall, much like Henry Giroux, suggests that popular culture "matters" so 
much because it is "an arena of consent and resistance. It is partly where hegemony 

arises, and where it is secured. It is not a sphere where socialism, a socialist culture 

already fully formed— might be simply 'expressed'. But it is one of the places where 
socialism might be constituted" (466). Raymond Williams, similarly, theorizes the 


cultural powers and symbolic hierarchies that construct "high" and "low" discourses in 
society. Williams's "inherent dominative mode" explains how the most powerful socio- 
economic groups exist at the center of cultural power and have the "authority" to 
designate what is high and low culture, what is superior and inferior. 14 Many theorists of 
popular culture no doubt ground their studies in Marxism, though others certainly hesitate 
to do so to the extent that Hall and Williams do. Most, nevertheless, share Hall's and 
Williams's concern that (popular) culture should be approached politically. 
For Hall and Giroux, then, popular culture is never neutral; instead, it provides narratives 
through which (young) people identify themselves and (against) others as well as 
narratives through which youth construct meanings of the world — for better or worse. 

Furthermore, in a sociological critique of taste, Pierre Bourdieu identifies popular 
culture as a certain kind of class aesthetic: 

Everything takes place as if the "popular aesthetic" were based on the 
affirmation of continuity between art and life, which implies the 
subordination of form to function, or, one might say, on a refusal of the 
refusal which is the starting point of the high aesthetic, i.e., the clear-cut 
separation of ordinary dispositions from the specifically aesthetic 
disposition. ... the popular audience delights in plots that proceed 
logically and chronologically towards a happy end, and "identifies" better 
with simply drawn situations and characters . . . Their reluctance or refusal 
springs not just from a lack of familiarity but from a deep-rooted demand 
for participation. (32) 

Bourdieu 's treatments of the relationships between aesthetics and socio-economic classes 

provide a theory of how daily life is organized. That is, according to Bourdieu, a social 

hierarchy is in place, which enables us to know how we will behave in different 

situations, and our success in these situations depends upon how well we learn to play the 

game. Taste, however, is the name of this game. In it, we must learn not so much how to 

evaluate things in general but how to evaluate the "right" things, how to participate in the 


"right" discussions — to play the "right" games. The point of all this, however, is that not 
everyone has the opportunities to participate in the same games. Not everyone has access 
to the rules of play because these rule are taught in accordance with one's social standing 
and the social space through which one moves, which is based upon the concept of 
capital — material, mental, and symbolic (economic or cultural). One's proximity to 
certain social spaces, therefore, determines his or her lifestyle — some lifestyles, then, are 
more probable than others. Because certain lifestyles and activities are considered more 
"distinguished" than others and because not everyone can understand and appreciate 
these "higher" tastes, one's choice of games to play is never innocent. 

These various activities of taste and exclusion, in addition, serve to reinforce the 
standing social hierarchies. In order to explain more thoroughly how individuals from 
particular social spaces choose lifestyles, Bourdieu offers the concept habitus. For 
Bourdieu, "The habitus, an objective relationship between two objectivities, enables an 
intelligible and necessary relation to be established between practices and a situation, the 
meaning of which is produced by the habitus through categories of perception and 
appreciation that are themselves produced by an observable social condition" (101). 
Habitus, to summarize, is a system of interconnected dispositions which allows us to 
interpret the world around us, a system through which the experiences we have 
accumulated allow us to choose to live in a certain way. Everyone's habitus is unique; 
however, similar experiences among individuals allows for the formation of a "class 

Bourdieu's Distinction functions as one of the most cited treatments of class and 
aesthetic formation, a work which undoubtedly allows us to understand better the 


relationships among taste, capital, and class — a complex matrix. My inclusion of 
Bourdieu, however, is meant to center on whether we might begin to theorize a "youth 
habitus." It is, though, important to note some of the conceptual dilemmas and 
limitations in Bourdieu's work. Bourdieu's Distinction dates from the 1960s and is based 
on conditions in France, conditions which are no doubt unique among themselves 
(French culture certainly differs greatly from American, English, Chinese, or whichever). 
Thus, the question arises whether Bourdieu's concepts are transferable over space and 
time, particularly since his treatment of concepts such as lifestyle, capital, and habitus 
appear quite deterministic and narrowly defined by choices present only in one's social 
position. A youth habitus, then, appears imminently more complex because it would not 
be based primarily upon one's socio-economic status. 

This is to say, the relationship between class and culture is becoming more 
complicated because age, gender, and race, for instance, are more important factors than 
they were in the past (though cultural choices are still stratified by class to some degree). 
People today, in other words, tend not to limit their "cultural" choices to one form. Most 
individuals have become cultural omnivores who engage in cultural— and entertainment 
—practices that exist from one end of the "high-low" cultural spectrum to the other. On 
the one hand, as Herbert Gans suggests, "some cultural choices from different classes are 
converging, making the classes more similar in their choices than in the past. For 
example, people from lower-middle taste publics now show up at some museum 
blockbuster exhibitions and go to some independently produced movies— once called 'art 
films'— meant to appeal mainly to the upper-middle class public" (10). On the other 
hand, according to Gans, 


cultural choices are diverging, perhaps because some new, class-related 
tastes have emerged, or because age, gender, and race may influence taste 
more than in the past. For example, youth culture has become further 
subdivided by age, with movies, music, and other entertainment for the 
young often being subdivided into preteen, teen, college-age, and young- 
adult categories. In some cases, the divergence has become evident only 
because suppliers have begun to cater to it; television programs for black 
audiences are just becoming available. And even though soap operas and 
romantic films for women and sports and action genres for men have 
existed for decades, gendered TV channels did not arrive until the 1 980s. 

Youth culture, in Gans's estimation, has become more "divergent" because young people 

have numerous opportunities — and more disposable income — to select from among a 

greater number of "cultural choices." They, more than others, "are also still exploring 

tastes so as to identify their own, and the formation of 'cultural identity' may begin with 

a period of omnivorousness" (12). Thus, because the concept of habitus attempts to 

establish which cultural choices are not so much possible as they are probable, 

establishing or predicting a "youth habitus" seems nearly impossible. In other words, 

locating and analyzing the social spaces in which some singular version of "youth" move 

and exist is made more problematic by the fact that it is difficult, if not unlikely, to codify 

the "games" played by young people, people whose cultural choices — pop culture and 

otherwise — do not so easily fit into particular and strict social paradigms like those of 

Bourdieu's. In "Youth and Modern Lifestyles," Bo Reimer clarifies this slippery 

theoretical alliance between youth and popular culture: 

[I]t is clear that what youth encounter in their leisure is increasing; there 
are more alternatives than ever. New types of activities arrive and old 
activities are differentiated. For example, music genres have become 
more and more specialized: if rock was previously marked off from pop, 

death metal is now separated from speed metal Along with an 

increased differentiation of choice we are confronted with everything from 
specific subcultures with intensive interests in what is clearly delimited to 
a general interest in many diverse types of expression. . . . What this 


means is that even if the choice of lifestyle remains structured, young 
people will choose different activities. The links with socio-economic 
factors will continue to be strong, but differences in ways and means of 
expression will increase. We shall acquire more diverse or heterogeneous 
lifestyles. The choice of lifestyle may perhaps recall what a mate in one's 
primary group has done, or one may choose in accordance with influences 
coming from the mass media. In any event, the lifestyle field as a whole 
will become more differentiated. (Reimer's emphases; 139) 

The link between youth and popular culture, as I have attempted to show here, is no 

doubt a strong but incoherent one. That is, the strict alignment of young people with 

certain forms of popular culture — their cultural choices — has perhaps become 

overdetermined and defined too narrowly, particularly because popular culture itself is 

difficult to define. Nevertheless, as I continue to examine the relationships between 

composition studies and youth in this and subsequent chapters, especially in an attempt to 

theorize student authority, the links between young people and popular culture — however 

tenuous — will no doubt help us recognize and understand the "lack" of credibility 

associated with student writers. 

Questions and concerns about the relevance of youth in composition studies also 

come about in large part — although sometimes implicitly — through our conversations 

about "literacy" — or "academic literacy." Literacy, however, has been a lightning rod of 

controversy during the past few decades and still draws composition scholars into heated 

debates. Despite the complexities of the debates about academic literacy, literacy is still 

defined and understood by many as kinds of academic "standards" that students must be 

able to demonstrate. That is, if one is to be considered "literate," he or she must meet the 

criteria of the community which sets these "literacy standards." Thus, "literacy" becomes 

a matter of surplus or deficit: either one has or does not have the knowledge and skills to 

meet the pre-given standards. When it appears that too many individuals do not meet 


these set standards, literacy becomes a "crisis," a crisis that is, according to Patricia 
Harkin and John Schilb, an "umbrella term to cover and isolate those persons who, for 
whatever reason, did not have 'normal' standards for discourse" (3). At the root of this 
literacy crisis, Harkin and Schilb argue further, are those who fall outside the institutional 
norm, those who "used minority dialects, nonnative speakers of English, white middle- 
class college students whose SAT scores were lower than those of their parents, people 
who lacked experience with the conventions of academic discourse, unemployed adults 
who could not read the instructions for filling out their welfare applications, and soldiers 
who failed to comprehend instructions for making and deploying nuclear weapons" (3). 
In the academy, particularly in composition studies, then, arguments about literacy 
typically refer to the ways that students can or cannot use language that is valued by 
academics, those academics who, Bizzell argues, shirk their "professional responsibility 
simply to expel from the academy those students who do not share our discourse" 
("Beyond" 256). More recent conversations about literacy have suggested that we should 
do our best to complicate and make more complex these issues, that we should move 
beyond simple analyses and complaints about academic normalization and discourse 

In the 1990s, in particular, many contesting views and theories of literacy 
emerged. " Patricia Bizzell, however, foregrounds cultural literacy as a response to these 
various versions of literacy: "all literacy is in fact cultural literacy — that is, that no 
symbol system in and of itself induces cognitive changes. A cultural context is necessary 
to invest the features of the system with meaning, to give them significance that then 
induces changes in thinking" ("Arguing" 242). No literacy, in short, exists outside of its 


cultural context. Bizzell is in part correct in her assertion, that we should try to provide a 

more relativistic understanding of various forms of literacy so that we might begin to stop 

trying to standardize students' intellects, educations, skills, and experiences. I am 

concerned however about the ways in which young people in general are thought to 

"lack" certain kinds of literacies — academic or otherwise. Minorities and nonnative 

speakers are most often thought of as unable to possess the "correct" forms of literacy. 

On the other hand, it seems that whites and other native speakers, despite the fact that 

they too have not quite gained the "proper" forms of academic literacy, are thought to be 

making the necessary transitions into such literacies, that they are in the midst of 

shedding the unnecessary literacy habits that they learned in spheres of popular culture, 

for instance, and are more likely to transform themselves from academic outsiders to 

insiders. This movement is no doubt possible for anyone but often considered more 

difficult for minorities and nonnative speakers — or so the story goes about academic and 

discourse conventions. 

This is all to say, an interesting problem exists regarding young people and their 

"literacy" status. Many students, in other words, have "potential" but are somehow still 

outsiders till their acquisition of literacy is complete. Thomas Hine writes about the ways 

that young people are perceived to possess unfinished minds, that they are still in the 

process of "forming" themselves: 

We tend to believe that young people are not fully formed and that there is 
still time to help them correct any mistake they have made. This is a 
generous belief that contains a substantial element of truth. But this 
optimism becomes distorted when, seeing the teen years as the last chance 
to perfect troubled young people before they turn into vicious adults, our 
drive to perfect the young becomes coercive and arbitrary. (20) 


Similarly, according to Ulf Boethius, a paradox exists in the way young people are 
viewed and understood: "Adults are profoundly ambivalent about youth; young people 
have so much that adults lack— authenticity, strong feelings and passions, physical 
strength and sexual vitality, a future full of possibilities. At the same time, youth are 
outsiders, they have still not been integrated into the social order and consequently, 
despite their powerlessness, youth possess a freedom that adults have lost" (Boethius 50). 
Compositionists no doubt recognize what students (as young people) lack and take it as 
their goal to remedy this lack; thus, part of the compositionists' job centers on helping 
students (in)form themselves and shed those discourse traits and habits that keep them 
from making this transition from outsiders to insiders. 

Although students as young people are defined and classified in many cases by 
their age as well as by their participation in certain rituals and their consumption of 
certain popular culture forms, they are also labeled according to what forms of literacy 
they do not possess and by those that they lack. Student writers are no doubt constructed 
by a dynamic constellation of cultural, social, political, institutional, and discursive 
forces. Composition studies, however, has tended to ignore the various ways that youth 
has been bound up in this constellation, the way that composition studies has failed in 
particular to theorize adequately how youth plays an important part in student writers' 
authority — and lack of it. 

Tipping Our Wands: Composition Studies and the Transformation of Youth 

Saying no more, she tipped her golden wand upon the man, making his cloak pure white, 
and the knit tunic fresh around him. Lithe and young she made him, mddy with sun, his 
jawline clean, the beard no longer grey upon his chin. And she withdrew when she had 

— Homer, The Odyssey 


In the epigraph above the Goddess Athena had helped Odysseus disguise himself 
earlier in the narrative — she had made him appear like an old man so that he could return 
undiscovered to his homeland. When Athena believes it is time for Odysseus to reveal 
himself to his son, Telemachus, she changes him back to his more youthful appearance. 
She simply tips her "golden wand" upon Odysseus and makes his wrinkled and coarse 
skin more soft and smooth, removing the hairs off of his chin to manifest a clean, 
youthful appearance. Magically, that is, she has made an old man look young in much 
the same way she had previously made him look elderly and fragile. It is interesting to 
note that of all the powers Athena has to help Odysseus disguise himself, she makes him 
older. Certainly one's countenance and physical appearance will change when one 
becomes older, therein making the disguise almost foolproof, but more than the physical 
metamorphoses that go along with aging, Odysseus' s age change serves another purpose. 
In short, age deceives; one's age allows certain behaviors to go unnoticed and allows 
others to be accepted. That is, old men can do things that would arouse suspicion if were 
they done by a younger man— and vice versa. Identities, as I've discussed, are based in 
large part upon one's age — one's participation in and involvement with specific 
communities — because we accept certain behaviors when they're acted out by young 
people that we would not so readily accept if they were the actions of older individuals. 
I have a colleague, for instance, who constantly tells stories about the differences 
between his day classes— full of young students— and his evening classes that are full of 
adult, working students. His expectations, his perceptions, his assignments, his teaching 
significantly alters between these classes, despite the fact that they are still supposed to 
be the same freshman writing courses. I have been arguing, in short, that we as 


compositionists approach young students a bit differently, that in the course of teaching 

writing we also see it in many cases as our job to aid in student transformations. We 

hope — rightly or wrongly — to somehow make them "better" people as well as "better" 

writers. We can try to do this, however, because we sense that young people are not yet 

formed and still have potential for the "proper" changes — those that make them more 

"critical." Thus, we scrutinize their worldviews, politics, and ideologies. C.H. 

Knoblauch, for instance, discusses the ways in which students have been influenced by 

dominant values and cultures: 

My students accept the stories about freedom and self-actualization, fair 
play and altruism, progress and prosperity that their history books have 
composed to portray the American experience. In accepting them they are 
not more naive than their parents or their teachers. They believe that 
Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King together emancipated black 
people . . . that equal opportunity is a liberal euphemism for reverse 

discrimination That the patriarchal oppression of 20, 200, and 2000 

years ago ... has given way to gender equality. ... My students have 
heard about oppression in other parts of the world ... but its unfortunate 
existence does not serve as a call for interference elsewhere and still less 
as a call for self-scrutiny at home. (13) 

Many compositionists such as Knoblauch, Ira Shor, and James Berlin write about how 

students uncritically accept dominant values and discourses as, simply, "the way of the 

world." Students' authority — or ethos— as critical agents is thus undermined, it seems, 

by their willing acculturation into dominant groups. 

Chris W. Gallagher counters such statements when he writes that, "Students are 

not imagined as living, breathing, material bodies with various and varying interests, 

investments, motivations, faiths, and beliefs, but as purely reactive (and reactionary) 

mechanisms. Their reactions are themselves predictable, accessible before they walk into 

the classroom" (65). Gallagher criticizes the ways in which some compositionists too 


quickly assume that students are nothing more than passive and apolitical learners — 
simple-minded beginners with little if any political integrity. Students, that is, appear to 
some compositionists as individuals who are not yet molded, not yet fully formed agents 
and subjects. Student authority in the production of discourse, particularly in freshman 
writing classrooms, then, appears almost oxymoronic. One cannot emit authority who is 
still passive and unformed — politically and culturally. That is, many of composition 
studies' theories and pedagogies attempt to empower students and their writings by 
suggesting that these writings are grounded in genuine social and material practices, but 
composition studies is still in large part a discipline whose identity is formed and based 
upon the notion that students are not only gaining new knowledges but shedding those 
simplistic, invaluable, and "politically suspect" knowledges at the same time. In other 
words, composition studies is a discipline intent upon the formation of the student as both 
a "writer" and a "person." 

The danger here, nevertheless, resides in composition studies' willingness to ask 
students — young people — to leave behind many of those discourses and cultures that 
have helped construct their identities. In this sense, students are taught writing based 
more upon where they need to get rather than where they already stand within cultures 
and discourses of youth. Some compositionists, nonetheless, have devised theories and 
pedagogies that focus explicitly on how students interpret and produce discourses that 
exist in the realms and spaces of their everyday worlds. 16 What, however, does this mean 
for composition studies, does this equate young people and popular culture too closely, 
does it attempt to somehow "authorize" student writings because it delves into subjects 
closer to their own worlds and interests? A "by-default" ethos? In short, how do these 


formations and understandings of youth actually affect student writers and their authority 
as writers? And, furthermore, how does it affect composition as a discipline, its identity, 
meanings, practices? 

Sidney Dobrin suggests that we cannot codify which knowledges are important 
and crucial, and that when we speak about, for instance, academic literacy and discourse, 
we are speaking in a particular cultural context and drawing from a particular list of 
knowledges. He writes, "Cultural contexts transform; communication, knowledge 
making and sharing, thought, discourse all insist that [literacy] lists be transformative. 
We have come to recognize that no culture, no body of knowledge, is more valuable than 
any other, that cultures interact with other cultures, that contexts morph into new 
conditions, that bodies of knowledge splinter and change" (Constructing 136). As 
cultures and contexts "morph" into new ones, new bodies of knowledge and literacy, 
compositionists should begin to recognize how youth cultures and discourses provide 
contexts rather than empty spaces that need to be filled with the "real" and "important" 
forms of literacy. In other words, students' educations, no doubt, must be transformative, 
must be spaces where formations and metamorphoses take place. However, rather than 
look for ways to take students to a pre-existing end, composition studies should be more 
careful to focus on ways that youth may provide already-existing contexts for 
empowerment and authority rather than a life-space or life-style that students need to be 
ushered out of as quickly as possible. In other words, we might ask what forms of 
student authority might derive when we explore more closely and carefully how youth 
cultures and academic cultures productively enmesh in composition studies. 


In order to explore this question in greater detail, I shall focus intently upon two 
areas of study that have preoccupied composition scholars for some time now: theories 
and pedagogies of the public sphere and theories and pedagogies of resistance. I have 
chosen to concentrate on these areas not only because they have been arenas of great 
interest and contention in composition studies but also because compositionists have 
rarely, if ever, theorized the relationships between public spheres, resistance, authority, 
and youth — my own preoccupations. In chapter four I begin evaluating the ways 
composition studies has understood public spheres — theoretically and pedagogically — as 
spaces for student empowerment and authority, particular kinds of "public" spaces in 
which youth is typically unseen and erased. However, I also take into consideration how 
and why compositionists see public discourse as necessary for student writers. Susan 
Wells, no doubt, argues correctly that "our wish that our students achieve public agency 
is, among other things, a displacement of our own anxiety about our professional 
efficacy" (135). In short, the status of students and their writing is an indication of the 
status of composition studies in larger institutional and social contexts, and theories and 
pedagogies of the public certainly lead compositionists into greater understanding of 
these contexts and spaces. 

In addition, my interest in theories and pedagogies of resistance derive from the 
ways that these have always recorded, to some extent, student agency and authority. 
"Resistance" necessarily calls forth connotations of power, capability, and authority — 
things which are not often associated with undergraduate writers. That is, "resistance" 
seems to give meaning to acts. However, I agree with John Trimbur that "resistance" has 
perhaps been over-used in composition studies without any clear meaning, that the 


various ways compositionists use the word are "so dissimilar that 'resistance' is in danger 
of turning up anywhere and everywhere — a description that can serve as the starting point 
for analysis but hardly seems capable of investing any explanatory value in the term 
'resistance' itself (3-4). Although I do not claim to provide a clear, concise, and final 
definition of resistance for composition studies, I do hope to offer a new and valuable 
way of theorizing and practicing resistance that takes into account the cultures and 
discourses of youth that have been overlooked in other theoretical and pedagogical 
accounts and treatises. 

My larger concern about student writers, youth, public spheres, and resistance, 
however, is in achieving a greater understanding of composition studies as a discipline 
that is situated in certain social, cultural, political, and institutional contexts. That is, 
more than most disciplines, composition studies' status is determined by understandings 
and perceptions of students and their texts. Thus, the discipline is de-valued when 
student writers are simply that and nothing more — not "authors." I have discussed those 
who wish to sever composition studies' close attachment to students, and I have also 
mentioned those who want to retain the field's identity as a "service" discipline, a 
discipline whose links with students and teaching should be preserved. Perhaps I am 
being a bit of a determinists when I suggest that I don't believe we have much choice in 
this matter about composition's attachment or detachment from students. Since teachers 
and scholars of writing are merely one part — one function — of a large field that is driven 
and maintained by a conglomerate of social, institutional, political, and cultural 
components and forces, embracing or severing our ties with student writers doesn't really 
seem to be our choice entirely. The student writer — whether viewed as real or 


conceptual — will continue to define and give direction to composition studies. Whether 
one sees this as beneficial or antagonistic is of less importance that the fact student 
writers determine the direction of the field as much as compositionists themselves. Thus, 
examining the various components that construct the student writer — youth in 
particular — in composition studies seems like an important priority — a priority that 
cannot be dissociated from all of our other priorities and concerns. Composition studies 
not only needs to look more carefully at youth in relation to students but in relation to 
itself as well. Compared to other disciplines, composition is still youthful and new, still 
finding direction and status. It is still squirming to find its own grounds and sources of 
empowerment and authority. 


1 Olson is referring specifically to Bishop's article, "Places to Stand: The Reflective 
Writer-Teacher-Writer in Composition," College Composition and Communication 5 1 
(1999): 9-31. 

2 Murphy here is specifically critiquing Berlin's essay, "Rhetoric and Ideology in the 
Writing Classroom," College English 50 (1988): 477-94. However, Murphy's argument 
might easily extend to much of Berlin's other work, such as Rhetorics, Poetics, and 
Cultures: Refiguring College English Studies (Urbana, IL: NCTE, 1996) and 
"Composition and Cultural Studies," Composition and Resistance, eds. C. Mark Hurlbert 
and Michael Blitz (Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 1991. 47-57) 

3 For more discussion about the ways in which pedagogies and theories of composition 
are implicated in larger ideological and political contexts, see Patricia Bizzell's Academic 
Discourse and Critical Consciousness (Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 1992) and James 
Marshall's "Of What Does Skill in Writing Really Consist": The Political Life of the 
Writing Process Movement," Taking Stock: The Writing Process Movement in the '90s, 
Eds. Lad Tobin and Thomas Newkirk (Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 1994. 45-55). 

4 The public furor over freshman English at the University of Texas is covered in greater 
detail in Linda Brodkey's Writing Permitted in Designated Areas Only (Minneapolis: U 
of Minnesota P, 1996), Brodkey's "Making a Federal Case Out of Difference," Writing 
Theory and Critical Theory, eds. John Schilb and John Clifford (New York: MLA, 1994. 


236-61). Also in Sharon Crowley's Composition in the University: Historical and 
Polemical Essays (Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 1998), especially Chapter II, "A 
Personal Essay on Freshman English"). 

5 Although I argue throughout this book that youth is not defined solely by an 
individual's age, I mean to suggest here that the majority of "young people" who take 
rhetoric and composition classes are those between the ages of, say, eighteen and twenty- 

6 The debates over student initiation into "academic discourse" are both long and 
numerous. One might look further into these debates by taking a look at Patricia Bizzell, 
Academic Discourse and Critical Consciousness (Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 1992) 
and her essay, ""; also see Min-Zhan Lu, "Professing Multiculturalism: The Politics of 
Style in the Contact Zone." CCC 45 (1994): 305-21; David Bartholomae, "Inventing the 
University." When a Writer a Can 't Write: Studies in Writer 's Block and Other 
Composing-Process Problems. Ed. Mike Rose (New York: Guildford, 1985. 134-65); 
and Peter Elbow, "Reflections on Academic Discourse: How it Relates to Freshman and 
Colleagues." College English 53 (1991): 135-55; and Raymond A. Mazurek, "Freirean 
Pedagogy, Cultural Studies, and the Initiation of Students into Academic Discourse," Left 
Margins: Cultural Studies and Composition Pedagogy. Eds. Karen Fitts and Alan W. 
France (Albany: State U of New York P, 1995. 173-88). 

7 In chapter five I will look more closely at critical consciousness as it relates to theories 
and pedagogies of resistance. For more in-depth treatments of critical consciousness in 
other texts, however, see Paulo Freire, Education for Critical Consciousness. Trans. 
Myra Bergman Ramos (New York: Continuum, 1973) and Freire, Pedagogy of the 
Oppressed. Trans. Myra Bergman Ramos. (New York: Continuum, 1989); Paulo Freire 
and Ira Shor, A Pedagogy for Liberation: Dialogues for Transforming Education (South 
Hadley, MA: Bergin and Garvey, 1987). Ira Shor, Critical Teaching and Everyday Life 
(Boston: South End, 1980); Ira Shor, ed. Freire for the Classroom (Portsmouth, NH: 
Boynton/Cook, 1987); James Berlin, "Rhetoric and Ideology in the Writing Classroom " 
College English 50 (1988): 477-93. 

8 For more on the age of the ephebes, see Marc Kleijwegt, Ancient Youth: The Ambiguity 
of Youth and the Absence of Adolescence in Greco-Roman Society (Amsterdam: J.C. 
Gieben, 1991), especially chapters two, three, and nine. 

9 These previous four quotes were all taken from Mike A. Males, Framing Youth: 10 
Myths about the Next Generation (Monroe, ME: Common Courage P, 1999. 338-39). 
Males does not cite their primary sources but has taken them all from another secondary 


10 For a number of excellent treatments of the history of youth stereotypes and the 
construction of myths, see the following works: Sharon Stephens, Children and the 
Politics of Culture (Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1995); Lawrence Grossberg, We Gotta 
Get Outta Here (New York: Routledge, 1992); Joe Austin and Michael Nevin Willard, 


eds., Generations of Youth (New York: New York UP, 1998); Chris Jenks, Childhood 
(New York: Routledge, 1996); Anne Higonnet, Pictures of Innocence: The History and 
Crisis of the Ideal Childhood (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1998); and William 
Finnegan, Cold New World: Growing Up in a Harder Country (New York: Routledge, 

1 1 For more about American youth before the twentieth century, see the following: 
Robert H. Bremner, Children and Youth in America: A Documentaiy History 
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1970); Harvey J. Graff, ed., Growing Up in America: 
Historical Experiences (Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1 987) and Conflicting Paths: Growing 
Up in America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1995); Grace Palladino, Teenagers: An 
American Histoiy (New York: Basic, 1996). 

1 2 Others who have written about youth, culture, and ritual performances in America and 
elsewhere are Joseph F. Kett, Rites of Passage: Adolescence in America (New York: 
Basic Books, 1977); Arnold Van Gennep, Rites of Passage, Trans. Monika B. Vizedom 
and Gabrielle L. Caffee (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1960); and Thomas Hine, The Rise 
and Fall of the American Teenager: A New History of the American Adolescent 
Experience (New York: Perennial, 1999). For those interested in the pioneering works in 
this field, see Granville Stanley Hall, Adolescence: Its Psychology and Its Relations to 
Physiology, Anthropology, Sociology, Sex, Crime, Religion, and Education (New York: 
D. Appleton, 1904). For one of the first popular anthropological accounts of youth, 
culture, and ritual, see Margaret Mead, Coming of Age in Samoa (New York: William 
Morrow, 1928). 

1 3 Although I will focus here almost exclusive on theories and pedagogies of 
contemporary popular culture, a number of studies look back to forms of pop culture 
from earlier decades. A number of historians and critics see the 18 th century as the age of 
popular culture's origins. See, for instance, John Brewer, Pleasures of the Imagination 
(New York: Farrar and Strauss, 1998) and Pat Rogers, Literature and Popular Culture in 
I8' h Century England (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1985). 

14 See Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1977), 
especially his treatment of "Dominant, Residual, and Emergent" Ideologies, pp. 121-27. 

15 See Ira Shor's two seminal works, Critical Teaching and Everyday Life (Chicago: U 
of Chicago P, 1987) and Freirefor the Classroom: A Sourcebook for Liberatory 
Teaching (Portsmouth, NH: Boynton, 1 987); also Ira Shor and Paulo Freire, A Pedagogy 

for Liberation (South Hadley, MA: Bergin, 1987); also Eleanor Kutz and Hephzibah 
Roskelly, An Unquiet Pedagogy: Transforming Practice in the English Classroom 
(Portsmouth, NH: Boynton, 1991). In addition, see Sidney Dobrin, Constructing 
Knowledges: The Politics of Theoiy-Building and Pedagogy in Composition (Albany: 
SUNY P, 1997, especially chapter five, "Ideology, Literacy, and Radical Pedagogy in 
Composition Studies." 


16 For an example of essays that attempt to deal with students and their "everyday" 
cultural contacts, see Alan France and Karen Fitts, eds., Left Margins: Cultural Studies 
and Composition Pedagogy (Albany: State U of New York P, 1995). 


"Viva, Las Vegas!": Composition Studies and City Planning 

Say goodbye to a cherished family friend. 

—Malcolm 's mother, just before smashing a TV with a mallet, in 

Malcolm in the Middle 

The public seems to be lost. . . . If a public exists, it is surely as uncertain about its own 
whereabouts as philosophers since Hume have been about the residence and make-up of 

the self 
— John Dewey, "The Eclipse of the Public" 

In Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business 
(1986), Neil Postman suggests that different cities have radiated the "American spirit" at 
different historical moments. In the eighteenth century, Boston was at the forefront of a 
political radicalism that helped construct American politics as we know it today. In the 
mid-nineteenth century, New York City, along with Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, 
symbolized the "melting pot" and the "American Dream." And in the early twentieth 
century, Chicago represented the "industrial energy" of a burgeoning nation, the city of 
big shoulders. Currently, however, things seem to have changed quite dramatically, 
according to Postman. Americans have become a certain kind of "public," one that only 
wishes to be entertained and amused: 



Today, we must look to the city of Las Vegas, Nevada, as a metaphor of 
our national character and aspiration, its symbol a thirty-foot-high 
cardboard picture of a slot machine and a chorus girl. For Las Vegas is a 
city entirely devoted to the idea of entertainment, and as such proclaims 
the spirit of a culture in which all public discourse increasingly takes the 
form of entertainment. Our politics, religion, news, athletics, education 
and commerce have been transformed into congenial adjuncts of show 
business, largely without protest or even much popular notice. The result 
is that we are a people on the verge of amusing ourselves to death. (3-4) 

Like Allan Bloom in The Closing of the American Mind, Postman is at times, perhaps, 

overly concerned about the waning of the American mind and intellect, and he focuses 

his attention upon a nostalgic past when people, for example, read books rather than 

viewed television. He does, however, seem to have a valid point that "in America God 

favors all those who possess both a talent and a format to amuse, whether they be 

preachers, athletes, entrepreneurs, politicians, teachers, or journalists" (5). This certainly 

reminds me of those "experienced" instructors who gave me teaching advice when I was 

a beginner in the classroom: "If possible, be personable, relaxed, and funny. Students can 

identify with that and will, consequently, learn better from you." Although I try to avoid 

being a clown, 1 have still managed to go about my daily teaching with these words of 

wisdom in mind, that there is room for humor in the discourses of the classroom. Most of 

us, this is to say, savor a bit of Las Vegas in our teaching styles. 

Postman's work interests me here not so much because I hope to continue 

discussing the politics of humor inside and outside the classroom but because he brings 

up some interesting points about "public discourse," something which composition 

teachers and theorists have become more interested in over the last decade. Many 

compositionists, that is, have sought to make the classroom more "public" and have 

attempted to help students write toward and in public spaces for public audiences, which 


I will touch upon in greater detail later in this chapter. What concerns me most — and 
what concerns a number of other composition specialists — is that we really do not have 
much of a grasp upon the "public" — one may well wonder, for instance, what it is, where 
it is, what it does, what it is for, whom it is for, who is part of it, and for whom it benefits. 
How students enter the public, why they should do so, and how compositionists can make 
this happen are questions that only complicate the issues even further. Postman's work 
serves to set up the enormous disparity that exists between public discourse in the eyes of 
composition scholars and public discourse in the eyes of a nation. In other words, I 
assume that most compositionists certainly do not wish their "public" classrooms to be 
based upon the model of Las Vegas, so it seems appropriate to ask what separates these 
different understandings of "public discourse" and how composition studies' theories of 
the public can function in light of the more accepted, more dominant "public discourses" 
that derive, for instance, from the medium of television and other forms of "popular 
culture." I do not mean to intimate that Postman is entirely correct in his perception of 
public discourses, that he is correct when he asserts that television commercials have 
"become an important paradigm for the structure of every type of public discourse" (my 
emphases; 126). However, Postman helps compositionists, to some degree, recognize 
what they are up against. His version of public discourse not only shows composition 
scholars that there are multiple publics but also that their public spaces are significantly 

different from those that students themselves are accustomed to thinking in and about 

those various types of popular culture— which complicates theories and pedagogies of 
writing to an even greater degree. Nonetheless, public discourses and public spheres 
have begun to provide composition studies with new and exciting avenues of exploration 


for students and have also started to help compositionists reconsider questions about the 
authority of student writers and their texts, not to mention questions about the authority 
and status of composition studies itself both inside and outside the academy. In short, 
compositionists are beginning to look for and construct their own versions of Las 
Vegas — for better or worse. 

In her article, "From the Contact Zone to the City: Iris Marion Young and 
Composition Theory," Christy Friend suggests that "the discourse community metaphor 
has . . . outlived its usefulness. . . . For it does not go far enough in imagining how we 
might help students take their writing public into concrete deliberative settings, nor does 
it provide a way of validating ethical, political, or linguistic difference" (663). Friend, 
like many others, tries to push student writing and thinking into public spheres — spaces 
where students' texts will circulate among a heterogeneous group of readers inside and 
outside of the university, and spaces where, perhaps, outdated and singular notions of 
"community" will collapse or at least be re-fashioned. 

This chapter examines how many in rhetoric and composition studies have tried to 
construct writing classrooms as public spaces and have tried to help students make their 
writing more public. I agree that these are, in some instances, necessary endeavors; 
however, I will argue first that we too often see "public" spaces as those which can 
merely be entered, as if it is simply a matter of "getting one's foot in the door." In 
addition, I contend that when we look at the relationship between student writers and 
public spheres, we must also consider that most students are young people with their own 
relationships to various public spheres that can be productively cultivated inside and 
outside the composition classroom. In other words, we as teachers and theorists of 


writing must take into consideration how public spheres have already constructed youth 
cultures and that, in a sense, students are always already part of public spheres that affect 
their textual practices and the ways in which they may be positioned in relation to public 
spaces and audiences. Students, that is, have already acquired discursive traits and public 
discourses from "Las Vegas" as well as from other "cities." Positing "the city" as a 
public model, as Friend advocates, therefore, is incomplete, fragmented, and 
oversimplified; it is also a bit vague since, as we've seen, different "cities" resonate 
different traits and personalities much the same way as classrooms do. 

Public Pedagogy: Outside of Classroom Spaces 

The Man with No Public Business has No Business. 

— Inscription on an Ancient Athenian City Wall 

Christy Friend's article investigates the complex relationship between writing 

classrooms and public spheres — a much needed examination because "even if students 

become proficient critics of political and social discourse within the context of particular 

school assignments, there is little evidence to show whether and how they export this 

awareness to other public arenas" (657). To construct and represent more effective uses 

of public space in the composition classroom, Friend utilizes Iris Marion Young's Justice 

and the Politics of Difference ( 1 990), a work which promotes "contemporary cities" as 

the ideal model for democratic public forums because they, in short, embody the 

following four characteristics: (1) social differentiation without exclusion; (2) varied use 

of diverse public spaces; e.g., parks, neighborhoods, and business complexes; (3) 

"eroticism," defined by Young as "the pleasure and excitement of being drawn out of 

one's secure routine to encounter the novel, strange and surprising"(660); and (4) 


"publicity," places where anyone can participate in discussions and encounter differing 
groups and opinions. 

Friend employs Young's urban model as a response not only to the "key 
limitations in pedagogical approaches that imagine the classroom as a discourse 
community" but also to those pedagogies that imagine the classroom as a "cultural 
'contact zone'" (662). Contact zone models, Friend argues, neglect the practical 
questions regarding a teacher's authority to manage diversity in productive ways, 
emphasize interpretation and analysis of texts in place of encouraging students' personal 
responses to issues, and they offer little guidance to teachers who confront ethical 
dilemmas in the classroom (664-667). Thus, by way of Young's "urban model of the 
public sphere," Friend devises a "public pedagogy" that facilitates heterogeneous 
perspectives, desires dissensus and consensus, provides for disenfranchised viewpoints, 
and acknowledges and appreciates multiple forms of public deliberation (673). Friend, 
though, clarifies that she is not attempting to debunk discourse community and contact 
zone models entirely but is supplementing their deficiencies instead. 

All new models, metaphors, and theories of discourse will inevitably neglect to 
clarify certain confusing passages and terms, or they will overlook concepts that could 
potentially strengthen the model itself. Christy Friend's model "City" also slips quickly 
past a crucial concept that may better relate (or complicate) student writers to public 
discourses, texts, and contexts. In this case, Friend misses an important opportunity to 
interpret and explain more thoroughly what we mean when we discuss student writing as 
"public" because, I believe, despite her attempts not to, she too comfortably and easily 
wraps Young's urban model around the composition classroom. 


Iris Marion Young's urban model of public forums, according to Friend, explains 

that "issues cannot be democratically discussed unless policymakers create and support 

public forums where debate occurs among a heterogeneous public, with specific 

representations given to oppressed groups, . . . [and] the sole restriction on such forums 

should be that no group may prevent another from participating and being heard" (660- 

61). That all speakers may equally access and participate in written and spoken 

exchanges is of course necessary for a democratic public sphere, particularly for the 

"public" composition classroom. However, one must be cautious about what he or she 

designates as a "democratic forum" of public deliberation because many public forums 

operate as hidden sites of oppression, realms that masquerade domination as open 

deliberation. Jane Mansbridge, for instance, notes that 

The transformation of "I" into "we" brought about through political 
deliberation can easily mask subtle forms of control. Even the language 
people use as they reason together usually favors one way of seeing things 
and discourages others. Subordinate groups sometimes cannot find the 
right voice or words to express their thoughts, and when they do, they 
discover they are not heard. [They] are silenced, encouraged to keep their 
wants inchoate, and heard to say "yes" when what they have said is "no." 

Mansbridge's words are particularly relevant for women and people of color whose 

voices are often appropriated without consent — often the case in composition classrooms. 

However, teachers of writing frequently construct the classroom as "our" space — 

meaning, both the teacher's and students' space — without considering that they are 

pushing their own agendas, pulling students into cultural and political issues that students 

don't want to take part in. This is to say, the teacher's and students' collective "we" is 

often a rhetorical disguise constructed by a teacher who wants students to accept his or 

her political viewpoints. 


A writing pedagogy like Friend's promotes a democratic, just, and participatory 

public classroom environment and does seem to provide students with a more 

comfortable place to speak, critique, and compose, but such an understanding of "public" 

is limited here. In this case we might ask not only whether voices are being covered and 

neutralized but also whether equal access to discuss issues inside (and outside) the 

classroom necessarily means equal interest in and concern for these issues among the 

various students. For instance, Friend makes the following comments about the teacher's 

role in the writing classroom: 

Since teachers have many of the same responsibilities that policymakers 
have in larger communities (for example, the authority to decide on an 
agenda for discussion, to call on speakers, to evaluate speakers' 
contributions, and to make procedural decisions for the entire group), and 
since universities are, after all, part of these larger communities, it seems 
reasonable that her [Iris Marion Young's] recommendations might 
translate smoothly into classroom policymaking. (668) 

Do democracy and justice themselves — guided by a benevolent "policymaking" 

teacher — make for true and effective public spheres? I see potential antagonisms and 

problems for public forums — those in which all may participate — that rely on a 

"policymaker" to set "agendas" for deliberation. 

A quick anecdote — in a press conference in 1962, John F. Kennedy made the 

following remarks about the differing "roles" of experts and laypeople: 

Most of us are conditioned for many years to have a political viewpoint — 
Republican or Democratic, liberal, conservative or moderate. The fact of 
the matter is that most of the problems . . . that we now face are technical 
problems. They are very sophisticated judgments, which do not lend 
themselves to the great sort of passionate movements which have stirred 
this country so often in the past. [They] deal with questions which are 
now beyond the comprehension of most men. (qtd. in Lasch Culture 78) 

Kennedy, it appears, thought that "common" language was no longer adequate to 


understand and articulate public issues, those which required an increasing amount of 
informational and technical expertise. Similarly, roughly half a century before Kennedy, 
Walter Lippmann wrote in Public Opinion (1922) that it was impossible to achieve an 
informed public opinion that could guide public policy. This was exacerbated further, 
Lippmann believed, not because the "omnicompetent citizen" was impossible but 
because most citizens did not care about public policy decisions. In short, Lippmann and 
Kennedy argued, the typical "layperson" could not obtain the level of knowledge and 
attention needed for cogent and intellectual participation in public discussions. 
Lippmann posited an alternative: an elite enclave of spokespersons (in the press) who 
could see past the emotional symbols and stereotypes that dominated most forms of 
public debate. This cadre, whose members possessed more advanced and "scientific" 
knowledge, could be objective and could guide the average citizens who were themselves 
unable to foster public opinion and policy in relation to certain (overly-complex) issues. 1 

The thoughts of these past social critics afford compositionists some insight, to 
some degree, into this notion of the policy-making teacher that Friend theorizes in her 
article. Teachers no doubt guide classes in many ways, but it makes sense to question the 
degree to which they can and should function as the "informational elites" whom 
Lippmann believes can guide the public, or in this case, the public classroom. Teachers 
and theorists of composition should consider for a moment that any public forum must in 
some way reflect the issues that most concern or interest the participants themselves. In a 
composition classroom, student-participants themselves must be able to raise questions 
and issues which most concern them in order for the classroom to become a "truly 
democratic" public space. Nancy Fraser suggests that "the idea of a public sphere as an 


arena of collective self-determination does not sit well with approaches that would appeal 
to an outsider perspective to delimit it proper boundaries. . . . Only participants 
themselves can decide what is and what is not of common interest to them. However, 
there is no guarantee that all of them will agree" (88). Teachers of writing may have the 
authority to support the classroom as a type of public forum that will help students 
eventually proceed into other public arenas, but compositionists need to examine more 
closely the influence such "policymaking" and "agenda setting" will have on the 
classroom's "public" status. For instance, can scholars and teachers of writing honestly 
believe their pedagogical methods are facilitating a type of public deliberation if they as 
teachers have told our students they must discuss and write about the issues thev want 
them to discuss, deliberate, and write about? In short, policymakers — teachers of writing 
in this case — may help direct public discussions and decide upon certain appropriate 
actions, but discussions, perhaps, cannot be public if the participants themselves are not 
allowed to select the issues that concern them. This begs the question, how can 
compositionists and should compositionists provide students with the occasion to decide 
upon all the issues they will discuss over the course of the semester? And, what happens 
if the class decides upon issues they believe "concerns" them as "public" individuals, but 
composition instructors do not deem these appropriate issues for a writing classroom or 
an academic setting? That is, the academic, or institutional, influences surrounding 
writing classrooms will necessarily affect the ways in which composition pedagogies and 
theories function publicly. All of this, of course, puts the urban "City" model of the 
public sphere in a problematic situation. 

Friend's public pedagogy is, perhaps, a step in the right direction in that it allows 


student writings to circulate outside of the classroom and become more public by virtue 

of a larger readership, but this pedagogy assumes that its designated public spaces will 

necessarily benefit students and their writings by virtue of this expanded readership. 

And, to invoke what Victor Shklovsky called "the knight's move," this step forward is 

also a step sideways where other new and unanticipated problems occur. Namely, such a 

model suggests that the public is something that can merely be penetrated, or moved into, 

like Kenneth Burke's famous conversation parlor in which he suggests: 

Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others 
have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a 
discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is 
about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them 
got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps 
that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you 
have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone 
answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns 
himself against you, to either the embarrassment of gratification of your 
opponent, depending on the quality of your ally's assistance. However the 
discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And 
you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress. 
(Philosophy 110-11) 

Public spaces, however, unlike the space of the Burke's metaphoric parlor, cannot simply 

be walked into. Teachers and theorists of writing, that is, cannot simply set up public 

spaces like parlors for there students to enter, spaces where they can simply begin 

engaging in certain "public" conversations by virtue of their location. Friend's article, 

however, implies that student writing has no public benefit unless it comes in contact 

with a teacher's designated public spaces, much like the conversation parlor; this notion 

of a prior, or pre-built, public space negates the idea that public spaces are constructed 

and that students themselves can form their own public spaces. Friend's public 

pedagogical model, in other words, assumes that public spaces are pre-made, pre- 


fashioned, and pre-approved spaces where students should engage in and submit their 

conversations and writings in one way or another. Susan Wells writes that 

If we want more for our students than the ability to defend themselves in 
bureaucratic settings, we are imagining them in a public role, imagining a 
public space they could enter. I argue that we need to build, or take part in 
building such a public sphere; that the public sphere is always 
constructed; and that it cannot, in our society, be unitary. . . . when we 
think about "public discourse," the public appears as a pre-existing forum 
where citizens make decisions face to face. That space is so intensely 
imagined that we think it must be real — just a little inaccessible, like live 
theater or downtown department stores. ("Rogue Cops" 326) 

Public space is not fixed and ahistorical. Thus, trying to place students in "public spaces" 

for their writing endeavors dictates to students what is "public" and to some degree takes 

away their means of agency, their ability to construct a public space according to their 

own needs, interests, and desires. This also negates the kinds of publics that students 

have already participated in, which I will discuss more shortly. 

Public spaces, moreover, develop — rise and decay — and their membership 

changes, as do the issues under debate and the ways they are debated. In Vernacular 

Voices: The Rhetoric of Publics and Public Spheres, Gerard A. Hauser contends, "A 

public's members form a collectivity that may manifest their attention to issues through 

votes but just as often by exercising their buying power, demonstrations of sympathy or 

opposition, adornments of colored ribbons, debates in classrooms and on factory floors, 

speeches on library steps or letters to the editor, correspondence with public officials, and 

other expressions of stance and judgment" (my emphases; 32-33). For Hauser, this is to 

say, publics "emerge as those who are actively creating and attending to these discursive 

processes for publicizing opinions, for making them felt by others. Their members are 

society's dynamic participants and judges who are actively engaged in evolving opinions 


that influence how our cultural, social, and political wheels turn" (33). In other words, 
publics are formed by discursive processes — rhetorical activities — rather than by their 
placement in some specific or concrete space or, as Friend suggests, by certain kinds of 
readers who browse through the written words of students. Thus, compositionists should 
consider first and foremost that public classrooms and public (student) writings should be 
defined by their rhetorical characteristics, not by certain issues and audiences or routes of 
circulation. A "policy-making" teacher, therefore, changes the rhetorical dynamics of a 
composition classroom in such a way that might lead students into pre-set agendas and 
deliberations rather than public discussions that afford student-participants the 
opportunities to develop their own public issues, debates, and rhetorical competences. 
"A public sphere, then," according to Hauser, "is a discursive space in which strangers 
discuss the issues they perceive to be of consequence to them and their group. Its 
rhetorical exchanges are the bases for shared awareness of common issues, shared 
interests, tendencies of extent and strength of difference and agreement, and self- 
constitutions as a public whose opinions bear on the organization of society" (64). 
Compositionists, this is to say, might first and foremost theorize classrooms and public 
discourses in such a way that accounts for the rhetorical processes by which students — 
who have little or no "official" status inside and outside the university — communicate 
with each other in both written and spoken discourse. 

Friend's use of Iris Marion Young's urban model, in addition, examines ways that 
students may produce discourse outside of classroom settings, in other public spheres. 
Friend cites the following course as one example of a "public pedagogy." This course, 
she writes, 


placed students in writing jobs at a variety of public and private agencies, 
ranging from the state arts commission, to the university business school's 
communication center, to the state commission on minority affairs. 
Students used class meetings as a forum for analyzing their internship 
work through critical lenses of various rhetorical theories and for 
discussing the different ethical, intellectual, and rhetorical challenges 
public expression involved in the different settings. . . . The course 
encouraged [students] not only to find public spaces in which to write, but 
it also provided a space within which they could reflect on what it means 
to write for a particular public. (673-74) 

Many teachers of writing — myself included — envy those in the position to construct 

composition courses in such a way. That is, the majority of instructors do not have the 

means — the institutional support — to do such things, nor do they have the amount of time 

that such a program would require to develop, since most writing teachers manage 

anywhere from between three to five course per semester. However, the institutional 

problems that writing instructors face on a daily basis are not by themselves sufficient 

reasons to critique this type of writing pedagogy. Instead, I question whether this 

pedagogy effectively demonstrates writing in a public sphere or space. That is, I wonder 

whether students are really becoming involved in public writings simply because readers 

outside of the classroom have perused their written documents — readers in business 

schools, arts commissions, and other agencies. Friend asserts, through Carolyn B. 

Matalene's words, that such a course taught students "something real about the 

complexities of public life, public agencies, public decision making processes, and texts 

in public contexts" (Qtd. in Friend 674). More importantly, since students are "placed" 

in these "writing jobs" — placed in some "public or private agency" — will they actually 

get a sense of the public workings of discourse? Here I return to the notion that in order 

for students to take part in public deliberations and forums they must be "participants" — 


willing and interested rather than "placed" and possibly indifferent. This all to ask 
whether these places, these different "contexts" afford students a more public locale than 
the classroom. 

Hauser defines a public as "the interdependent members of society who hold 
different opinions about a mutual problem and who seek to influence its resolution 
through discourse"' (Hauser's emphases; 32). Rather than examine public writing by 
composition students in terms of their rhetorical activities, Friend does so in terms of 
writing that is labeled as "real and complex" — and, therefore, somehow more public. It 
seems quite inconsistent to exercise Iris Marion Young's ideal urban model throughout 
and then close the essay by casually relating it to the "real complexities" of public life, 
agencies, decisions, texts, and contexts. That is, Friend's public classroom pedagogy is 
based on Iris Marion Young's "City," where everyone is heard and allowed to participate, 
but this pedagogy then requires students to move beyond the classroom walls to some 
"agency" where there is no guarantee they will be heard, where consensus is typically 
valued over dissensus, and where full participation is often not granted or even expected. 
Students then are asked to work out these "real complexities" in a classroom forum, 
which, it seems, will no longer prove to be a public space where issues of common 
concern bond students who seek some resolution through rhetorical activity. It appears 
instead the classroom will be transformed into a workshop where students discuss and 
analyze each others' individual public writing endeavors. The classroom, that is, no 
longer appears like a public space but instead like a practicum, wherein students discuss 
individual projects that may or may not be related to one another. The public space of 
deliberation fragments into separate writing projects by each student, projects that do not 


require collective participation as much as they ask for various bits of advice from 

The distinction between public and private spaces and discourses, no doubt, is 
also of great concern here, a distinction that is socially, politically, and ideologically 
fraught with complications. In The Human Condition ( 1 958), Hannah Arendt argued that 
the problems of the modern world resulted from the loss of a vital public realm in which 
social actors might construct an active life — a vita activa— and a common sense of reality 
that provides spaces for agency and action. Arendt begins by discussing the "Golden 
Age" of Athens, where life was split between the polis and oikos, the former the arena in 
which citizens could separate themselves from others by asserting themselves through 
their words and the latter the retreat from the polis where individuals engaged in the 
pleasures of family and economic security. The sharp distinction between public realms 
and private realms in ancient Athens was necessary for understanding the "good life," 
according to Arendt. That is, each complemented the other; both were needed for one to 
live a rich life. Arendt retells this Athenian understanding of public and private lives in 
order to demonstrate the disorientation of the modern world. For Arendt, the sharp 
separation of public and private was crucial for individuals to get past their own 
economic concerns and move toward a more socially responsible society in which people 
were more interested in issues that went beyond their own concern and welfare. This 
manifest division between public and private, that is, is needed to generate conditions in 
which people might "act" rather than "behave." Distinctly public acts, according to 
Arendt, are needed to fashion human realities and actions in pursuit of a common and 
public good. 


Critics such as Richard Sennett concur with Arendt, suggesting that we have lost 

all sense of our public roles and have retreated into our private spaces. In The Fall of 

Public Man (1978), Sennett proposes, 

Today, public life has become a matter of formal obligation. Most citizens 
approach their dealings with the state in a spirit of resigned acquiescence, 
but this public enervation is in its scope much broader than political 
affairs. . . . We have tried to make the fact of being in private, alone with 
ourselves and with family and intimae friends, an end in itself. . . . The 
obsession with persons at the expense of more impersonal social relations 
is like a filter which discolors our rational understanding of society; ... it 
leads us to believe community is an act of mutual self-disclosure and to 
undervalue the community relations of strangers, particularly those which 
occur in cities. (3-4) 

Despite Arendt's argument for a discrete public realm in which the words and deeds of 

humans can establish a greater form of truth and despite Sennett's pessimism over 

people's growing retreat into private realms, a number of cultural theorists and 

philosophers suggest that we cannot make a distinction between public and private. 

Bruce Robbins, for instance, contends, "no sites are inherently or eternally public. The 

lines between public and private are perpetually shifting, as are the tactical advantages 

and disadvantages of finding oneself on one side or the other" (xv). 

Similarly, many pedagogies that ask students to write in public spheres have 

become complicated by this public and private blurring. Friend states, it is difficult at 

times "to locate classroom discourse on a 'public/private' continuum [because] the 

boundary between 'private' and 'public' discourse shifts continually and is ideologically 

fraught" (670). She continues, 

We [teachers of writing] must remain open to seeing our classroom 
activities as potentially relevant to public debate, even as we recognize 
institutional barriers to publicity and deconstruct reductive or Utopian 

ideas about what "going public" with our discourse means Just as we 

should not rely on traditional distinctions between "private" and "public" 


discourse, nor should we cling to old notions of what constitutes a 
"public" forum. (670) 

Teachers of rhetoric and composition must, of course, reconsider what it means to teach 

"public" versus "private" writing — a complicated task particularly since, as Friend rightly 

notes, traditional distinctions between private and public seem to be collapsing. 

However, in the midst of these debates over the stability of public and private boundaries, 

it is necessary for compositionists to continue looking for ways to construct a public 

classroom based on rhetorical activities. In order to give some clarity to public spheres — 

to separate it from this public/private entanglement — Hauser declares, 

When we conceptualize publics in rhetorical terms they are locatable as 
that portion of society actively engaged by issues. They are activated both 
by the discourse of leaders or the media and among themselves, making 
the wisdom with which they exercise their judging function contingent 
upon the character and quality of the rhetorical engagements they 
share. . . . publics are more than ideal; they are concrete emergences 
whose contours form through the materiality of the rhetoric to which they 
are attending and who make themselves evident through the materiality of 
their own vernacular modes of rhetoric. (271) 

For Hauser, this is to say, what distinguishes publics and public spheres is the rhetorical 

character and materiality of their discourses. Hauser's public spaces are entirely 

discourse based, in short. However, to clarify, rhetorical discourse is not sufficient 

enough in and of itself to form the basis of a public sphere — particularly a classroom 

public. More light needs to be shed on this viewpoint. Rhetorical conditions constitute 

how we experience ourselves and others in a communicative situation. These conditions, 

that is, shape the ways a public actually forms. In other words, a public sphere is not 

defined entirely by its political interests or the issues under discussion but instead by its 

function to foster critical evaluation and direction — its eventfulness. This is not to say, 

however, that consensus is always a desired goal. Publics do not necessarily function in 


order for participants all to come to a mutual agreement. Shared interest in a problem or 
issue, nevertheless, does necessarily highlight the differences among peoples and groups. 
Shared interests, that is, manifest people's ideological fragmentation. Most importantly, 
though, collective participation in rhetorical processes is what turns a group of 
individuals into a public. 2 

Teachers and theorists of composition interested in the potential workings of a 
public classroom, then, might concentrate not so much on the ways students write for 
certain audiences in certain "public" spaces but instead upon the ways students can work 
rhetorically to form some kind of common meaning. This is not to be confused with 
consensus. Common meaning might be explained as follows: "Discussion is initiated by 
mutual interest in a topic that has some important ambiguity. Productive exploration of 
shared uncertainty depends on intersubjective meanings. But productive discussion does 

not require consensus, though they may People may disagree and still make sense to 

one another, provided their differences are part of a common projection of possibilities 
for human relations and actions" (Hauser 70). Common meaning, no doubt, is centered 
on ongoing social conversations. A composition classroom usually comprises a diverse 
group of individuals— socially, politically, culturally, ethnically, economically, for 
instance — whose interests can intersect and offer the possibility of conversation — 
dialogue. Common meaning, therefore, according to Hauser, "is an achievement because 
it requires engaged individuals to connect manifold dialogues in which social, political, 
and cultural interests are expressed to those whose world they share. The particular 
manifestations of each public sphere contribute to its dynamic network of associations 
formed from the manifold of conversations that intersect in society's ongoing disposition 


of its issues" (71). A classroom as public space, then, does not have to be a function of 
some other — more important — public arenas, such as a governmental or university office 
or agency. Rather, a public classroom functions when rhetorically salient meanings 
materialize from discursive interactions among various students, meaning and 
interactions that evaluate and contribute to the rhetorically salient meanings that have 
emerged elsewhere, in other public realms. "The contemporary Public Sphere," Hauser 
contends, "has become a web of discursive arenas, spread across society and even in 
some cases across national boundaries. Each of these arenas is itself composed of those 
members of society who, at the very least, are attending to a discourse on issues they 
share" (71). The classroom, in other words, is a public node in a network that forms a 
larger "Public Sphere." Therefore, teachers of composition can concentrate less on 
tearing down institutional walls and focus more on creating a classroom space in which 
students engage one another and make sense with and of one another in order to 
effectively build a discursive arena that connects to other arenas. 

Thus, debates about whether a composition theory or pedagogy dwells in public 
or private space may remain of some interest to compositionists, though such a question 
should be of less consequence than questions that ask whether writing endeavors located 
outside of the classroom — for various audiences — are conflated with "something more 
real and more public," which implies that other (inside) classroom writings are "more 
artificial" and less important. In other words, by suggesting that students' writing for 
outside audiences is public, Friend implies that the typical, "traditional" student writing 
produced for teacher and fellow classmates is less public. Therefore, she suggests a 
certain kind of public/private distinction. "Real" writing is more public than the artificial 


classroom writings. Bruce Horner notes that "it is surely worth questioning how 'real- 
world writing' is being distinguished from student writing" (67). He argues further that 

The assumptions governing both the teachers' and students' perceptions of 
the greater reality of certain types of writing seem to rehearse the 
dominant notions of writing as pure commodity. The material production 
of that commodity, or the deadline imposed by someone other than one's 
teacher, or time constraints arising from sources other than academic 
calendars, are judged as real. Anything emanating from the academy is by 
dominant definition less real because non-circulating, in the same way one 
may view private journal writing as less real than the writing of technical 
reports, say, or ad copy. ... It [service learning] increases the exchange 
value of the writing as commodity by increasing the range of its 
circulation . . . Simultaneously, however, it reproduces the denigration of 
that writing which does not circulate, which by comparison seems 
somehow less "real," its audiences, deadlines, subject matter, even paper 
stock a pale imitation to true writing. (Terms 68) 

Rhetoric and composition studies needs new and more productive models and metaphors 

to describe and interpret the complicated relationships between writing classrooms and 

public spaces; however, new models and metaphors often dismiss and denigrate old ones 

that still hold tremendous value. That is, Christy Friend's ideas about public pedagogies 

begin clearing a useful and important path toward public writing for students; however, 

by asserting — even implicitly — that such a pedagogy makes writing more "real" might 

also, unfortunately, send the message to students that "real" writing must have immediate 

and measurable social effects and that the material location of the classroom, their 

rhetorical engagements, their identities as students, and their ties to other public 

discourses and spaces are less important than what occurs in these agencies outside of the 


Friend's "Urban City" model, moreover, is imposed wholly from the top down. 

Because public spheres do and should rely on democratic interaction, teachers and 

theorists of writing cannot simply invent new and improved "public" writing projects, 


and then simply ask students to follow along. Instead, public pedagogies need to be built 
from the ground up, with student-participants having more say in how deliberative 
forums are to be held, what issues will be discussed, and the kinds of "public" discourses 
they would like to produce. Friend's "City" model is a valid one, but its "application" 
effects a less "public" classroom than Friend might hope for. In short, for such a model 
to work effectively and publicly, power should not be delegated so much from the 
"policy-making" teacher, and instead, compositionists might consider student positions in 
other publics as well as their own vested interested. I am not advocating that all teachers 
fashion their classes in this manner but, instead, that those who do want their classrooms 
to function like democratic public forums and want to teach writing toward public 
spheres must allow for this necessity — or else they will have entirely missed the point 
from the beginning. We in composition studies should remember, as Aaron Schutz and 
Ann Ruggles Gere caution, that "if we are not careful [about how we employ service 
learning], we may end up reinforcing ideologies and assumptions that we had hoped to 
critique" (147). 

Publish and Perish: Student Writers of Public Texts 

/ can predict with what I believe is considerable accuracy this about the century to come. 
It will be remarkable because its history will be shaped, and written, too, by a group of 
what promises to be remarkable human beings. The Millenials. 

— Anna Quindlen, Newsweek Magazine 

The Millenials — these individuals have been defined as those who will be in their 
teens at the beginning of the twenty-first century, born in the early to mid eighties (Howe 
and Strauss 3-5). They, according to Quindlen, will shape and write a new version of 
history — a "remarkable" one. Such statements give an added imperative to those of us in 


composition who acknowledge the importance of writing, of critical consciousness, and 
of agency. Thus, Christy Friend is correct in her assertion that "One of the most pressing 
questions now occupying scholars in rhetoric and composition involves defining the 
relationship between the writing classroom and public discourse. . . . [and] we have until 
recently imagined an uncomplicated relation between the classroom and public sphere" 
(657). Many theories of education and classroom practices assume that students will 
make a smooth transition from "private" classroom spaces to "public" career spaces 
where they will work after college. Thus, some believe that students might easily take 
what they do in the classroom and appropriate it to any number of "public" rhetorical 
situations. Charles Hill and Lauren Resnick remark that "no matter how 'genuine' 
instructors try to make classroom writing, there are intractable differences between the 
purposes of the classroom and of the workplace [which] . . . continues to make it difficult 
for students to make the transition from school to work" (150). Thus, conversations about 
the connections between composition studies and public spheres center on how rhetoric 
and composition courses can function like public spaces and how they can make the 
transition from college to career environments easier for students. Questions about how 
this transition might be made far outweigh the number of answers. Some 
compositionists, however, respond to this dilemma by suggesting that students might 
better engage public spaces by getting their written works published. 

Sidney Dobrin, for instance, discusses the rationale for one of his advanced 
exposition courses: "I have framed this advanced expository writing course with ... the 
assumption that advanced writing courses must introduce students to larger public 
audiences. The goal of this course was for students to move beyond the frivolous writing 


activities often assigned in composition classrooms — assignments which have no impact 

beyond classroom assessment and which reach no audience other than the teacher" 

( "English 33 10" 80). Dobrin, like many, contends that the teacher is no longer an 

adequate audience for student writing, and that student writing "has the authority — has 

the right — to become public, published discourse" ("English 3310" 85-86). Dobrin's 

discontent with low-impact writing assignments echoes Peter Vandenberg's claim that 

The textual work of students has the least value because it is strictly 
location-bound. Student writing . . . except in the rarest of circumstances 
follows an arc from the student, across the teacher's desk, and into the 
trash. . . . Student writing is value poor because it does not travel; it 
cannot circulate outside the narrow boundaries of its production, and 
therefore "works" in the least meaningful way possible. It is "practice" in 
the least significant sense of that term, never more than a shadowy 
ancestor of something to come. (Qtd. in Horner 5 1 ) 

Dobrin and Vandenberg both consider student writing as more "valuable" and less 

"frivolous" when it circulates — when it "travels." Dobrin's class centered on producing 

an edited collection of scholarly essays written by students themselves. He explains the 

rationale for this project: 

Frequently the argument is made that students, particularly first-year 
composition students do not possess the authority to publish their writing. 
As teachers, we frequently think of publication as an activity limited to 
more experienced, more "professional" writers, and, in turn, we relegate 
student writers to a position of "non-experts" about writing and about 
particular subjects. Such a view not only over-simplifies the notion of 
publication, limiting the definition of publication to widely-read journals, 
magazines, books, and newspapers, it also denies students the right to 
participate in public discourse. ("English 33 10" 85) 

Everyone's writing has the "right" to become public and published, but one may well 

wonder why circulation necessarily confers more value upon writing. That is, why is 

publication less "frivolous" than other classroom writing activities? For instance, I 

imagine that many of my "non-academic" friends who are not accustomed to reading 


composition scholarship would believe that all of my published research — if they could 
stand to read it in the first place — is entirely "frivolous," offering little value to the 
"outside" world. Thus, writings by professionals and students alike are not automatically 
legitimized — or given "Authority" — simply by appearing in print, and thus, by 
circulating. In addition, we might also question more deeply the concept of "circulation" 
itself. If Dobrin's collection of student-authored essays is published by an academic 
press, what kind of circulation will it actually achieve? In other words, a university or 
academic press might print one thousand or so copies of such a book. In a culture so 
heavily influenced and constructed by the mass media, is such a book — and its 
circulation — anything more than a gesture? 

More importantly, however, Dobrin's and Vandenberg's statements lobby for 
student texts that circulate beyond the classroom. Thus, texts in circulation are valuable, 
real, outside, and public, which implies, on the other hand, that non-circulating texts are 
frivolous, artificial, inside, and private. In these conceptions, "The specific material 
reality of the freshman composition course as a site for a specific type of writing is thus 
denied as an impediment to real writing" (Horner 55). I would respond to these critiques 
of non-circulating, non-public student writings by offering two considerations. First, we 
must remember, as Friend partially and correctly argues, that the university is not a non- 
public arena, and "It is not necessary to somehow escape that location [the composition 
classroom], or attempt to liberate students from it, because it is not separate from the 
'real' world but both constituted by and constitutive of it" (Horner 57). Along these same 
lines, Andrew Ross proposes that "Millions of citizens populate the world of colleges and 
universities, and thereby constitute a public in its own right" (Ross 260). In the next 


section I will focus more intently upon this notion that the classroom is inherently a 
public space where public deliberations and activities may occur. 

Second, the idea that students will somehow benefit from publishing their work is 
a bit short-sighted as a pedagogical goal. Dobrin notes how his students worked 
diligently to learn their audiences, that they "consciously saw the difference in writing for 
a public audience and writing for a teacher. Never before had I seen students so 
involved, so concerned about their writing. . . . 'Real audience,' for once, had real 
implications" (93). Dobrin admits to the rigors of the class and admits that "the course 
was ambitious. Asking students to write lengthy, publishable papers in a single semester 
was perhaps excessive" (92). However, less problematic than the project's ambition, I 
believe, is the more general idea that teaching students how to publish in an advanced 
exposition class focuses too heavily on teaching a process — the game of publication 
itself. For example, Nancy Fraser observes that "discursive interactions within the 
bourgeois public sphere was governed by protocols of style and decorum that were 
themselves correlates and markers of status inequality. These functioned informally to 
marginalize women and members of the plebeian classes and to prevent them from 
participating as peers" (8 1 ). Academic publishing is not much different in many regards; 
that is, in order for one's essays and articles to make it into print, he or she must know the 
accepted "styles" and "decorum" and "markers of status" — all of which exist to keep out 
those who don't know these established codes. Thus, getting to know one's audience is a 
very detailed and complex process that takes not only a great deal of time but also 
dedication. Teaching undergraduate students — in an advanced expository writing 
courses— ways to publish in an academic book leads students into a narrow conception of 


how "public" writing gets done. In "Rogue Cops and Health Care: What Do We Want 

from Public Writing," Susan Wells observes that 

The realignment of rhetorical pedagogy to the public I advocate is not, 
therefore, a prescription or proscription of a genre of writing. Personal 
essays are not intrinsically 'private'; technical discourse is not necessarily 
'public.' Rather, publicity is constructed as a relation of readers to 
writers, including notions of rationality and accountability that are 
continually open to contest. (335) 

In Dobrin's publication pedagogy, knowledge about the process whereby students might 

successfully publish in this genre (an academic book) appears more important than 

teaching these students to write in a variety of other (public) rhetorical situations, which 

may be especially problematical since the majority of students will probably not enter 

academic careers when they graduate from college. Students, then, are deprived of other 

considerations of public discourse in lieu of learning specific publication processes and a 

specific type of academic discourse — our processes and discourses as professional 


I am most perplexed, perhaps, by suggestions that student writings that do not 

circulate are inherently unimportant and frivolous — lacking any real value. Bruce 

Horner says, "In denying or denigrating student work, we end up denying and denigrating 

our own, for our own is ineluctably tied to students, who indeed constitute living 

reminders of the materiality of that work" (72). Horner continues by suggesting that 

compositionists should quit trying to lower the status of some student writings while 

raising the "authorial" status of others, and, instead, join "with our students to investigate 

[all] writing as material social practice, confronting and revising those practices that 

have served to reify the activity of writing into commodified texts" (72). In particular, 

composition teachers and scholars need to examine in greater and more critical detail our 


desire to have students publish their writings. Jurgen Habermas writes that "The public 
sphere becomes the court before whose public prestige can be displayed — rather than in 
which public critical debate is carried on" (201). Student publication is a matter of 
prestige, particularly in a society that rarely values the voices and opinions of young 
people. However, when compositionists claim that student texts need to circulate, they 
often seem wholly interested in making sure that student voices are heard rather than 
paying attention to what they are saying. In other words, simply being "heard" has 
become the primary goal, regardless of what is actually being said. Changing the status 
of student writers to published authors no doubt changes the status of composition 
studies in general — a way to empower both students and the discipline as a whole. 

Public Eyes and Voices: The Inclusion of Youth 

/ 've been in the business for 30 years, and I don 't remember anything like [the magazine] 
Teen People. 

— Dan Capell, editor q/Capell Circulation Report 

So far I have touched upon how the composition classroom and student writings 

have in recent years been imagined as public and how some compositionists have tried to 

extend the boundaries of these spaces and writings into other public arenas, specifically, 

through student involvement in a form of service learning and the publication of texts. 

However, those who have envisioned ways the writing classroom can become more 

public have tended to neglect some crucial ramifications and problems with "going 

public." First, one must consider that trying to place the composition classroom in better 

alignment with the public is not necessarily simply a matter of finding the means to help 

students make a smooth transition from the classroom to public spaces. This is to say, 

students already participate in various youth cultures that are inherently public — cultural 


spaces that have shaped and created their imagined and lived experiences. Henry Giroux 


Analyzing the relationship between culture and politics in addressing the 
problems of youth requires that critical educators and cultural workers 
engage both the symbolic and the material conditions that construct the 
various social formations in which young people experience themselves 
and their relations to others. . . . Today's diverse youth culture suggests 
that educators and others must become attentive to the cultural formations 
that young people inhabit, while making a serious effort to read, listen, 
and learn from the languages, social relationships, and diverse types of 
symbolic expression that young people produce. ("Public" 33) 

Youth is an often overlooked cultural category in rhetoric and composition studies, which 

is particularly detrimental to a field that concentrates almost exclusively on the social, 

political, and cultural factors that influence the writing practices of young people — and 

vice versa. This is not to suggest that youth is a freestanding category, one without 

connections to other cultural formations such as race, class, gender, and sexuality. 

Lawrence Grossberg's contention, discussed in chapter, that youth is an ignored 

category in the traditional list of subordinated groups and are silenced under the guise of 

protection hold great resonance here. This notion that young people are "silenced" has 

been an important one in composition studies and is the basis, in many regards, for these 

trends in the field that emphasize greater (public) circulation of student texts. However, 

we must question approaches and rationales for un-silencing these students. Friend's and 

Dobrin's public and publication pedagogies recognize that students are seldom listened to 

in our society — even within the universities they attend — but both Friend and Dobrin try 

to solve this dilemma by having students work within and toward official "public" sites — 

bureaucratic agencies and academic publications, respectively. These pedagogical 

practices, then, ignore the cultural spaces that young people inhabit, and, in a sense, try to 


move students out of these spaces of youth as quickly as possible and into more 

established, respected, and official sites, sites where young people might begin to loosen 

the shackles of their youth. In this sense, such pedagogies not only help students make a 

transition from the classroom to other public sites but also a transition from youth to 

adulthood, spaces where youth cultures are disregarded and denigrated. Although the 

theoretical underpinnings are different, these public pedagogies retain similarities with 

the older "Growth" theorists of the 1960s and 70s. In Teaching the Universe of 

Discourse, James Moffett writes the following: 

The primary dimension of growth seems to be a movement from the center 
of the self outward. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that the self 
enlarges, assimilating the world to itself and accommodating itself to the 
world, as Piaget puts it. The detailed forms which this movement takes 
are various and often paradoxical. In moving outward from himself, the 
child becomes more himself. The teacher's art is to move with this 
movement. (59) 

Of course those scholars whom I have discussed so far — those who want their students' 

texts to circulate (more publicly) beyond the classroom — are not positing theories and 

pedagogies that foster personal development in the same sense that Moffett suggests, 

those that somehow make students' lives more authentic. However, these public theories 

and pedagogies do try to push students "outward" into some sort of pre-understood and 

more "real" world that does not exist in the classroom itself and does not exist in the 

discourses that students have already negotiated elsewhere. In doing so, the intent is in 

some manner for students to "assimilate" the world to themselves and "accommodate" 

themselves to the world — to grow out of the artificial and frivolous realms of the 

classroom and youth into the more complex and real outside world that will someday 

harbor their transformed selves. 


Thus, these projects inevitable take on the practices of Bildimg, or social and 

cultural formation. In the BUdungsroman (the novel of formation or development), 

youth is subordinated to the idea of "maturity": like the story, it has 
meaning only in so far as it leads to a stable and "final" identity. Where 
the transformation principle prevails and youthful dynamism is 
emphasized . . . youth cannot or does not want to give way to maturity: 
the young hero senses in fact such a "conclusion" a sort of betrayal, which 
would deprive his youth of its meaning rather than enrich it. (8) 

I use the example of the BUdungsroman hesitatingly here because, of course, I do not 

wish to draw a direct connection between fictional characters in eighteenth- and 

nineteenth-century European novels and early twenty-first century students of writing. 

However, public pedagogies tend to assert the value of such narratives when applied to 

the lives of students. That is, in order to make young people heard and make their words 

meaningful, public pedagogies offer these students a quick transition out of the cultural 

spaces (of youth) — often equated with popular cultures, certain rituals, and lack of critical 

literacies — and into bureaucratic agencies and scholarly books. This, however, merely 

devalues and negates the importance of these important cultural spaces of youth, 

suggesting that students should leave these cultural territories behind as soon as possible. 

In other words, compositionists often claim that their students voices' are not heard 

because our society devalues the experiences and narratives of young people. However, 

rather than search for ways to make these young people heard — to strengthen the value of 

the positions and discourses they already hold — many composition teachers and theorists 

search instead for ways to make students appear more official. Thus, these theoretical 

and pedagogical practices obviate the problem at hand and, in short, implicitly suggest 

that students have the right to be heard, so long as they are heard in those spaces that 

have already been accepted as meaningful and official. This is the "betrayal" that occurs 


in the Bildungsroman: compositionists try to help students "out" of youth rather than 
"enrich" those experiences and cultural spaces that young people occupy. 

I do not want to suggest that students cannot benefit in some ways from such 
practices that might help them become more critical or official, but doing so might be a 
bit hasty. Henry Giroux suggests in Stealing Innocence: Youth, Corporate Power, and 
the Politics of Culture that "Young people often bear the burden of new, undeserved 
responsibilities and pressures to 'grow up.' At the same time, their freedoms are 
curtailed and their constitutional protections and rights of citizenship are restricted. 
Where can children find narratives of hope, semi-autonomous cultural spheres, 
discussions of meaningful differences, and non-market based democratic identities" ( 1 1). 
With this in mind, I want to question further these public pedagogical models and 
theories for what they ignore: how young people inhabit cultural spaces that can be 
cultivated in the writing classroom in order to make contact with and an impact upon 
other "public" arenas. 

Because we often view the writing classroom and the university itself as an 
isolated space, we tend to believe, as Drew suggests in chapter two, that students' entire 
lives are isolated as well, that young people are not active in public spheres. However, 
these notions fail to account for the ways in which young people, though their voices are 
not "heard" as much as we would like, are already constructed by public discourses — 
particularly discourses that derive from, to use Giroux's term, "corporate cultures." He 
asserts, "Growing up corporate has become a way of life for American youth. This is 
evident as corporate mergers consolidate control of assets and markets, particularly as 
they extend their influence over the media and its management of public opinion" 


(Stealing 99). Students' participation in corporate cultures, the mass media, and other 
spaces of consumption have already given them a taste of what it means to be "public," to 
construct identities that have meaning in relation to larger publics. Thus, composition 
theorists and teachers must not assume that students are entirely "inexperienced" when it 
comes to understanding how publics function and how they are constructed — that student 
have no "public literacy." In addition, we must keep in mind that "leftists of the 1990s 
do not know how to argue for the democracy we want without mobilizing an image of the 
public so hazy, idealized, and distant from the actual people, places, and institutions 
around us that it can easily serve purposes that are anything but democratic" (Robbins xi- 
xii). There are not only many publics but many different kinds of publics, and our 
versions of public discourse — as university academics — will differ significantly from 
others' conceptions of the public. We as compositionists should not insist to students that 
our versions of the public are the most important ones and the ones they should 
necessarily strive to enter and participate in — as young people, they will inevitably have 
their own public voices and concerns. 

Youth cultures themselves, moreover, are not isolated; they are embedded in a 
"network of associations" from which and in which their meanings are made. Thus, one 
cannot define youth so much as against "adulthood" — or as something moving into 
adulthood — as much as one can define it in and around other discursive arenas. In other 
words, youth and youth discourses are no less public than other discourses. Students of 
writing, then, are not "private" individuals — sitting in private, isolated classrooms — 
waiting to be heard, waiting passively to enter real public spaces. Instead, as Hauser 
explains, "The contemporary Public Sphere has become a web of discursive arenas, 


spread across society and even in some cases across national boundaries. Each of these 

arenas is itself composed of those members of society who, at the very least, are 

attending to a discourse on issues they share and who are able to understand and respond 

to the vernacular exchanges that exist outside power and yet are normative of it" (71). 

He continues, 

Collectively these weblike structures of a particular public sphere, such as 
a political party or a social movement are joined to others in the reticulate 
Public Sphere, where there collective rhetorical practices produce society. 
The Public Sphere's associative network includes more than discursive 
arenas whose boundaries touch. Its actual practices form a lattice of 
discursive spaces with permeable boundaries. In a pluralistic and diverse 
society, the ideal of civil society suggests that spheres work best when 
their boundaries are maximally permeable, not only permitting but 
welcoming border crossings by interests and actors from other arenas. (72) 

Discourses and cultures of youth, then, are not pre-given and pre-emergent spaces that 

are fixed and static but are instead caught in a matrix of other public arenas that comprise 

a larger "Public Sphere." Thus, such discourses are not evolutionary or teleological but 

ecological, part of a larger "public" framework. Composition practitioners and theorists 

might improve upon their understandings of public classrooms and discourses if they no 

longer theorize about how to help students move from private to public space. Similarly, 

they might also re-consider the importance, if there is any, of trying to help students 

attain the status of "real authors." Instead, we in composition studies could look more 

closely at the ways that discourses and rhetorics of youth are only one type of public 

vernacular defined against and with other ones. Vernacular rhetoric is part of narratives 

of belonging that "preserve our cultural, political, and social identities, which thereby 

opens it to the very features that are sui generis to the indigenous social and cultural 

terrain. This model rehabilitates public opinion by relocating it in the ongoing dialogues 


of ideas, values, and preferences that is native to social actors engaged by issues that bear 
on their lives" (Hauser 108). The knowledges shared within youth cultures, this is to say, 
are also forms of public knowledge, not knowledges that are less public (or nonpublic) in 
relationship to other discourses and spaces. A focus on the vernacular rhetorics of youth, 
as advocated by scholars such as Giroux and Grossberg, allows compositionists to see 
and read student writings and classroom voices as discursive exchanges that are already 
involved and caught in a web of other public issues, problems, and discourses. 
Composition theorists and practitioners, therefore, may begin to look at and for the 
connections between youth discourses and public issues rather than construct pedagogies 
and theories that attempt to move students into and toward these "public" issues, 
concerns, and spaces. 

Attempts to empower students and their writings by moving them into public 
realms and arenas — public agencies, service learning, and publication — have been 
important in composition studies in recent years. Such attempts to "authorize" student 
writings and writers — to breakdown the student writer/author binary — no doubt holds 
important institutional consequences for compositionists and composition studies. But it 
is also a rhetorical move. In many of the theories and pedagogies I have discussed in this 
chapter, student writers are viewed, imagined, constructed as passive individuals who 
lack participation in public discourses and spaces, people who will be further isolated and 
harmed by the restrictive walls of the "traditional" academic classroom. Such traditional 
academic spaces and discourses, that is, appear to exacerbate the manipulation of student 
writers, to keep them from the "real" and the public. In other words, as these theories and 
pedagogies suggest, engaging public discourses and entering public spaces give credence 


and authority to students and their writings by making their situations and words more 
"real," or less private. A type of ethos is achieved by virtue of greater (and different) 

By examining how public spaces are discursive and rhetorical — the ways youth 
discourses are public and tied to other publics — compositionists can investigate the 
agency, the authority, and the publicness of student discourses before and as they arrive 
in the classroom, the ways that students (as young people) already engage in public 
discourses and have certain kinds of authority to do so. The composition classroom, 
then, might become not so much an isolated space in which students engage in the purely 
"academic" (i.e. the non-real) but a space where their discourses and cultures already 
matter, are already real, already important and already endowed with some authority. 
The classroom, therefore, is a public arena where various discourses clash — as other 
composition scholars such as Lu and Bizzell have discussed elsewhere — and where new 
(public) discourses are made. 3 That is, it is not a space where non-public individuals are 
made more public and therefore more real. The public classroom emerges with the entry 
of student participation and discourses. It cannot, however, be a pre-given public space 
that is constituted entirely by the pedagogies and theories of the instructor. 4 

Given the large number and variety of discussions in composition studies about 
student resistance — which I will discuss in greater detail in the next chapter — it seems 
that composition teachers and theorists themselves have been quite resistant to theorize 
more fully the positions of students in youth cultures and resistant to examine the public 
nature of their discourses. As a consequence, many have criticized the composition 
classroom as a neutral space where real work cannot be accomplished. Paul Heilker 


argues, "Writing teachers need to relocate the where of composition instruction outside 
the academic classroom because the classroom does not and cannot offer students the real 
rhetorical situations in which to understand writing as social action" (7 1 ). Students, 
Heilker continues, "desperately need real rhetorical situations, real audiences and 
purposes to work with, real people to become in writing" (71). Heilker and others, I 
think, too quickly reject the reality of academic audiences, concerns, work, and public 
discourse. He and others too easily dismiss the real discourses and authority that students 
have and can bring into classrooms, discourses and authority that themselves endow the 
classroom with a type of publicness in itself. This is to say, Heilker and others see the 
academy and the composition classroom as cut off from these other public spheres, this 
network of associations and arenas that link together and help define each other. Charles 
Bazerman, however, aptly advises, "If we start analyzing the first- year writing course we 
find it is a very real place" (254). Similarly, Jean Ferguson Carr contends that we should 
not "leave the academic world behind as if it offered no evidence of alternative literacies, 
of resistance or differential uses for reading and writing, as if it were, in fact, a story 
already known and known fully" (96). 

The composition classroom, in summary, is one node in a larger network of 
public discourses. Students bring into classrooms various voices, rhetorics, narratives, 
and knowledges that are already public — derived and circulated in public voices that are 
connected to a greater number of other publics. The classroom, then, is one type of 
discursive — and rhetorical — public arena in which students can link their rhetorics and 
narratives to others — to those with which they both agree and disagree — in order to 
create various forms of meaning in and for the composition course. Academic classroom 


work is not a way to avoid social and cultural discourses and actions — as Heilker fears — 
but instead one way of engaging and transforming them. Empowerment and authority for 
student writers, this is to say, does not come at the brink of leaving the classroom in order 
to reach other public realms but comes instead in the activity of engaging public 
discourses with a stronger recognition (by both teachers and students) of what students 
already acknowledge and identify and where they already think, write, create, and 
exchange words. 


1 For more about Lippmann's work and a more broad understanding of public opinion in 
twentieth-century America, see George Boas, Vox Populi: Essays in the History of an 
Idea (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1969), Benjamin Ginsberg, The Captive Public 
(New York: Basic, 1986), and Michael McGee and Martha Martin, "Public Knowledge 
and Ideological Argumentation," Communication Monographs 50 (1983): 47-65, and 
Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, The Spiral of Silence: Public Opinion— Our Social Skin 
(Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1993). 

2 A more detailed examination of this can be found in Thomas B. Farrell, Norms of 
Rhetorical Culture (New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1993). 

3 For more on the such classroom clashes, see the numerous debates about contact-zone 
theories, taken up in Mary Louise Pratt, 'Arts of the Contact Zone," Profession 91 
(1991): 33-40. Richard Miller, "Fault Lines in the Contact Zone," College English 56 
(1994): 489-508. And Phyllis Van Slyck, "Repositioning Ourselves in the Contact 
Zone," College English (1997): 149-70. 

4 For a discussion of the ways in which all discourse — written, spoken, and thought — is 
public rather than private, see Thomas Kent, "Externalism and the Production of 
Discourse," J AC: A Journal of Composition Theory 12 (1992): 57-74. 


Into the Maelstrom: Theories and Pedagogies of Resistance in Composition 

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, 

But to be young was very heaven! O times, 

In which the meager, stale, forbidden ways 

Of custom, law, and statute took at once 

The attraction of a country in romance — 

— William Wordsworth, The Prelude (Book Tenth) 

These lines from William Wordsworth's The Prelude refer specifically to 
Wordsworth's journey to France in the 1790s and his experiences of the French 
Revolution; in particular, he seems to be enamored with the changes that were wrought, 
the demise of custom, tradition, and law that fostered a type of "romance" across the 
French countryside. Wordsworth's "bliss" stems in large part from what he sees in the 
revolution, the movements of resistance and action against the ancien regime, the new 
social, cultural, political, and economic changes that swept through France and Europe at 
the end of the eighteenth century. Wordsworth, in particular, is somehow captivated by 
"The attraction of a country in romance." 



Scholars and teachers of composition for some time now have been interested in 

the various ways that resistance can be incorporated into theories and pedagogies of 

writing. While these theorists and practitioners have not, as far as I know, drawn their 

ideas directly from the prose and poetry of Wordsworth, I start with a few lines from The 

Prelude in order to dive right into the abyss, to leap into the theoretical and pedagogical 

chasm that composition studies has dug with its various uses of the concept of 

"resistance," particularly in its numerous attachments to other cultural, social, political, 

and historical discourse formations. For example, a "romantic" and "idealized" version 

of resistance, according to many critics, exists in the discipline, a version of resistance 

whose supporters — though they don't consider it "romantic" — seek to direct students into 

outright opposition to certain dominant discourses and ideologies — those that oppress and 

marginalize. James Berlin, for instance, believes that "Our effort is to make students 

aware of the cultural codes — the various competing discourses — that attempt to influence 

who they are. Our larger purpose is to encourage our students to resist and negotiate 

these codes — these hegemonic discourses — in order to bring about more personally 

humane and socially equitable economic and political arrangements" (50). In a lucid 

analysis of resistance's "romantic" connotations in composition studies, John Trimbur 


we [compositionists] receive the term 'resistance' as an already 
thoroughly mythologized one that conjures up images of unreconciled 
freedom fighters and legendary stalwarts of the left. There are traditions 
of principled struggle the term 'resistance' taps into — The Paris 
Commune of 1871, Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Liebknecht's opposition 
to the Social Democratic parties' support of their national governments 
during World War I, the Catalonian anarchists during the Spanish Civil 

War The point I am working toward here is that actual moments of 

resistance invariably involve real dangers — of death, torture, jail. What 


makes such acts heroic is the recognition that, no matter the consequences, 
there are times when resistance is unavoidable." (9-10) 

In response to the works of those such as Berlin and Trimbur, Alan Kennedy goes so far 

as to debunk the "metaphor of resistance" altogether: "Resistance is one of those glory 

words from a day that is behind us — one might think of the pained nostalgia of Fredric 

Henry in A Farewell to Arms for all of the possible meanings of the expression 'in vain' 

that were obliterated by the realities of battle. Resistance is a romantic anachronism at 

the 'center' of a public sphere that is no longer spherical" (22). And, similarly, James 

Sledd unashamedly and succinctly states that "Only a fool would expect professor of 

English to lead a revolution" (147). I do not wish here to go into a long analysis of 

Berlin's theories and pedagogies of resistance, nor do I think it is necessary to explicate 

and explain Trimbur's, Kennedy's, and Sledd's writings about resistance; instead, by 

citing these composition scholars I have only hoped to begin to show the complexity of 

this master trope in composition studies, the varieties of arguments that have surrounded 

concepts of resistance, and the extremes to which compositionists have disagreed with 

each other about the meaning and utility of "resistance" for the field. 

Recounting discussions of resistance during a roundtable session at a CCCCs 

conference in the late 1980s, C. Mark Hurlbert and Michael Blitz observed that 

As soon as one of the participants talked about an innovative practice, 
someone else pointed out that real resistance was unlikely within an 
institution and a society, which, as James Sledd put it, "serves the big 
bosses and their big money, and our institutional power structures are 
modeled after the corporations they serve." A few participants expressed 
optimism. Quickly, others recalled that most, if not all, of the lofty aims 
typically advanced at conferences like 4C's were only improbably 
applicable to any of our day-to-day lives as employees of universities, 
colleges, and high schools. (139) 


Scholars of rhetoric and composition have long debated the potential of teaching students 
resistance in the writing classroom — in this case, resistance to dominant systems of 
power — and it appears that little has been resolved with this issue. However, 
compositionists more recently have tended to remark that there is a growing number of 
ways that the term "resistance" can and has been used in the discipline. That is, 
resistance theories that examine student responses to and negotiations with discourses 
and systems of oppression and marginalization — though still quite prominent — only 
comprise a small fragment of these conversations. Trimbur, for example, notes that 
resistance's "various meanings and uses just seem to slide across the field of 
composition, a kind of floating signifier that everyone recognizes in its contexts of use 
but that is hard, nonetheless, to pin down. . . . 'resistance' is in danger of turning up 
anywhere and everywhere" (3). Dale Bauer, furthermore, looks closely at the various and 
complex meanings of resistance, and, while acknowledging that all meanings of the term 
cannot be classified easily, she offers a brief catalogue of how resistance "is at once (1) 
romantic, (2) historic, (3) narrative, (4) radical, (5) antiracist, (6) mythic, (7) moral, (8) 

tragic, (9) heroic, (10) class-infected, (11) gendered, (12) racialized, (13) agonistic 

The effects of resistance range from joy through ambivalence to despair. . . . Thus the 
dialogism of 'resistance' is dizzying" (185). This theoretical and pedagogical maelstrom 
of resistance is both tedious and uncodifiable, and I have, in short, taken the plunge into 
this theoretical and pedagogical arena. 

Classifying and articulating all of the theories and pedagogies of resistance in 
composition studies is, however, not my task at hand, nor am I attempting to lay out the 
groundwork for a tidy and precise theory of resistance. Rather, I am interested in looking 


at the ways that some types of "resistance" theory and pedagogy have been used (and not 
been used) in composition studies to characterize and construct student writers, on one 
hand, and the ways they have been utilized to create a type of therapeutic discipline, on 
the other hand — therein changing (elevating?) the status of composition studies to some 
degree. I would like, however, to narrow down my examination of resistance to a few 
particular uses and meanings of the concept, and I wish to make it clear that my 
examinations of resistance are necessarily couched in a much larger series of 
conversations about this concept, conversations that I can in no way adequately 
characterize and cover in the length of this chapter. 1 For now, however, a more brief, yet 
more specific, background about "resistance" in composition studies is first necessary. 

Care, Concern, and Subversion: Resisting the Powers that Be! 

Wow, Bart, if we combine my concern for people with your blatant hucksterism, we might 
actually accomplish something. 

— Lisa Simpson, The Simpsons 

A variety of theories and pedagogies of resistance have been prevalent in current 

disciplinary conversations about such things as students' resistance to school, to courses, 

to instructors, to pedagogies, to texts, to peers, to institutional powers, to their 

subjectification as "students" as well as conversations about compositionists' resistance 

to academic discourse, English departments, hegemonic discourses, current-traditional 

rhetorics, and so forth. Despite this diversity of forms of resistance in composition 

studies, I would like to focus in this chapter upon the theories and pedagogies of 

resistance that are often associated with "critical pedagogy," also frequently termed 

"liberatory pedagogy" or "radical pedagogy." Joe Marshall Hardin explains, 


The goal of liberatory, critical, and radical pedagogy has been to foster 
resistance by students, teachers, and administrators to the uncritical 
acceptance of the acculturative mission of the academy and of the 
classroom and to use the power of writing instruction to resist dominant 
cultural, economic, and political values. These scholars and teachers hope 
to "empower" or "enfranchise" students — especially those from groups 
that have been formerly marginalized or excluded from adequate 
representation in cultural, economic, political, and educational institutions. 
The lesson in these classes is often to resist the passive acceptance of the 
values and ideology promoted by the conventions and genres of academic 
and disciplinary discourses by mounting successful critiques of the 
cultural values they inscribe. (45-46) 

The goal of these theories and pedagogies is to "liberate" students (and teachers), to help 

them achieve a new consciousness in which they will change the oppressive cultural, 

social, political, and economic institutions of the academy and elsewhere, to impart in 

students a concern about the hierarchies and injustices of the world that will (hopefully) 

lead to social action and change. 

The origins of resistance theory in composition studies are well dispersed across 

numerous texts, in a varieties of disciplines, and during a number of different time 

periods. I would like to give here a brief background of some of the seminal texts that 

have sparked conversations in composition studies about concepts of resistance. This 

summary is nowhere near exhaustive, however. One influential text, no doubt, is Paul 

Willis's Learning to Labour: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs, an 

ethnographic study in which Willis suggests, in short, that schools reproduce class 

divisions but students themselves are active in such processes. Willis contends that 

resistance — grounded in a particular socio-historical context (working-class Britain) — is 

a form of political action, and that working class students' subjectivities are not entirely 

determined by the school system. He identifies the agency that these students have to 

resist both a dominant culture in general and teachers in particular, teachers who, it 


seems, have little agency themselves but are instead a function of the school's 
reproductive practices and values. Henry Giroux, however, amends Willis's position on 
teachers in texts such as his Teachers as Intellectuals. In this collection, Giroux 
challenges the educational theories that posit teachers "as being trapped in an apparatus 
of domination that works with all the certainty of a Swiss watch" (xxxi). Giroux, this is 
to say, argues that theories and pedagogies of resistance — or "counter-hegemonic" 
strategies, a term he prefers — can and should account for teachers as well as students. 
Furthermore, no examination of texts that have fostered discussions of resistance in 
composition studies could be complete without acknowledging the work of Brazilian 
educator Paulo Freire, especially his decisive work Pedagogy of the Oppressed in which 
he, in short, considers pedagogies that help students "unveil" the structures of power, 
domination, and oppression that students confront in both texts, linguistic conventions, 
and cultural values. Freire, that is, fears that "as long as their ambiguity persists, the 
oppressed are reluctant to resist, and totally lack confidence in themselves. They have a 
diffuse, magical belief in the invulnerability and power of the oppressor" (50). Freire 
observes that the oppressed almost always have a fatalistic attitude, a worldview that 
does not encompass an understanding of personal agency, power, and the ability to bring 
forth real changes. These brief summarizes of the works of Willis, Giroux, and Freire 
can in no way do justice to the complexity and nuances of these scholars' and teachers' 
work; however, one might begin to see how composition studies has pulled its ideas 
about resistance from a number of diverse scholars and disciplinary fields: cultural 
studies and education, for instance. 2 


Given these sorts of influential background texts in critical pedagogy, 

composition teachers and scholars, no doubt, are uneasy and fearful that students too 

quickly accept the discourses and values of mainstream cultures and that students view 

themselves as unable to facilitate change in the world; compositionists are, that is, 

worried that students feel they are powerless to affect the conditions of the academy and 

of society. Moreover, scholars in composition have focused specifically on how students 

with certain ethnic backgrounds position themselves in relation to the acculturative 

powers of the academy and the classroom. 4 In addition, others have investigated closely 

the ways that women react to, interact with, relate to, and resist the acculturative forces 

that practitioners and theorists of critical pedagogy challenge. 5 Although compositionists 

have discussed in great detail resistance theories in light of specific formations of race, 

class, and gender, for instance, this chapter will look more broadly at critical pedagogy in 

order, ultimately, to get a larger perspective on how it functions within and for 

composition studies. I believe, however, that this chapter does nevertheless provide and 

capture many of the various subtleties and nuances of these more specific versions of 

resistance theory and critical pedagogy. The kinds of scholars I am studying, 

furthermore, though I am generalizing a bit here, theorize the writing classroom as a 

space where students' personal (home) values, beliefs, and identities may react to and 

work against those of the dominant institutions. Critical pedagogy in these cases, 

according to Joseph Harris and Jay Rosen, serves to 

teach students to write as critics of their culture, to reflect on those 
discourses — of the home, school, church, media, work, neighborhood, and 
so on — of which they are a part. But we also want to talk about teaching 
itself as a form of cultural criticism, about classrooms that simply 
reproduce the values of our universities and cultures but that also work to 
resist and question them. (58) 


Harris and Rosen examine the ways that the discourses and powers of the academy in 

particular are reproduced as well as the ways that teachers and students can resist the 

reproductive intentions of these powers and values. In short, those compositionists 

interested in critical, liberatory, and radical pedagogies tend to believe that colleges and 

universities are acculturative institutions intent on ideological reproduction and that it is 

the job of teachers and students to critique and demystify these forces in the classroom — 

to teach the non-reproduction of these dominant ideologies. 

Critical teachers also focus on how resistance theories and pedagogies might 

"contest both the traditional reproductive and service goals of writing and reading courses 

and . . . challenge the traditional structures of classroom power. . . . If critical teachers 

expect to engender a critical response to the reproductive nature of higher education and 

to truly empower both themselves and students to resist the unconscious reification of 

dominant ideology, then the traditional power structures of the classroom must also 

become available as a topic of critique" (Hardin 79). This is to say, critical pedagogy 

challenges traditional power structures in the classroom in order to question the "service" 

and "acculturative" roles of the "traditional" composition course. Such goals, perhaps, 

are no doubt important ones, particularly in light of what one writer from The 

Washington Post reports about a writing program in a Maryland elementary school: 

If Bodkin Elementary School Principal Rocce Ferretti had any doubt that 
the rigid writing program he instituted to beef up his school's state exam 
scores was sinking in, that ended when he saw one parent's Mother's Day 

card "It was like, 'Dear Mom, you are the best mother in the world for 

the following reasons . . . '" Then it backed up the claim with three 
examples and summed it up with a conclusion ... in the form of an 
answer for Maryland School Performance Assessment Program exams. 
(Qtd. in Howe and Strauss 161) 


Resistance to academic discourses — one of the projects of critical pedagogy — takes a lot 
of undoing by critical and radical compositionists. These kinds of pedagogies — in order 
to facilitate such an undoing of the academic discourses that, it appears, begin as far back 
as elementary school — often, for example, attempt to de-center classroom authority and 
endow students with greater power and institutional authority. Students are encouraged 
to take part in classroom functions and responsibilities that are traditionally reserved for 
the instructor. In a scholarly interview Ira Shor describes his pedagogical practices as an 
effort to "negotiate the curriculum with students, to use my institutional authority to 
transform unilateral governance into mutual authority. ... If I pursue a critical- 
democratic pedagogy that shares authority with students, I'm creating a local disruption 
in the development of students into the status quo" (Greenbaum 13). Allowing students 
to take part in the authority of the composition course, according to Shor and others, 
urges them to relate the course to their own lives and circumstances, wherein they resist 
the traditional hierarchical structures of the classroom and the institution. 6 

One of the main reasons I have chosen to discuss resistance theory as it is used 
and theorized in critical and radical pedagogies is the emphases these scholars place upon 
helping student become "empowered" — the ways students and their writings can gain 
authority. Joe Hardin writes, "Encouraging students to be more aware of the 
interestedness of discourse and urging them to see discursive space as an available and 
productive site for their own voices promotes an empowering of the student position" 
(my emphases; 63). Such notions of empowerment are no doubt grounded in the work of 
Freire, particularly statements by Freire like the following: 

A revolutionary leadership must accordingly practice co-intentional 
education. Teachers and students (leadership and people), co-intent on 


reality are both Subjects, not only in the task of unveiling that reality, and 
thereby coming to know it critically, but in the task of re-creating that 
knowledge. As they attain this knowledge of reality through common 
reflection and action, they discover themselves as its permanent re- 
creators. In this way, the presence of the oppressed in the struggle for 
their liberation will be what it should be: not pseudo-participation, but 
committed involvement. (5 1 ) 

Radical and critical compositionists have imported Freire's ideas, in particular, in the 

writing classroom in order to foster an awareness of the ideological reproduction of 

dominant values as well as to liberate students from an uncritical acceptance of these 

values and from an uncritical consumerism and conformity. In short, these teachers and 

scholars hope to help students resist an unaware acceptance of hegemonic values by 

theorizing the ways that writing might function as a means to construct such forms of 

political and cultural resistance, the ways that writing pedagogies might teach students 

that all discourses are open sites where they — both students and teachers — can challenge 

the values of the academy and a larger society. 

In this section I have merely tried to lay out what I see as some of the major tenets 

of critical, radical, and liberatory pedagogies, and although I am sympathetic to these 

movements in composition studies, I do have a number of concerns about and problems 

with these lines of thought in the discipline. Thus, it should be made clear that I have 

only presented a variety of thoughts about critical pedagogy and that I do not necessarily 

agree with all of them. I would like, however, to look more closely at these theories and 

pedagogies in order to present a case that I think might strengthen them. I would like, 

that is, to open critical pedagogy up to some new conversations — not to close these 

productive debates but to make them more expansive and more dialogic. 


I opened this section with a quote from Lisa Simpson, one that should have some 
resonance with theorists and practitioners of critical pedagogy. Lisa suggests to Bart that 
in order to accomplish anything for the good, one must have a genuine concern for 
people; however, one must also be a little devious and deceptive. One must, in short, be 
somewhat of a "huckster" — sly and tricky, yet perceptive, quick, and intelligent as well. 
The student or teacher of critical pedagogy, it seems, must be similar. He or she must 
have both of these qualities in order to be "empowered" — the ability to recognize, 
subvert, and resist the dominant powers, yet also a real concern for the welfare of 
people's social, political, and economic positions. Whether these values and skills can be 
brought forth through writing pedagogies remains to be seen. Hardin admits, "Much of 
the scholarship on critical literacy and critical pedagogy seems to end ... in a call for 
student empowerment within the discourses of the academy and culture. ... the nature of 
this empowerment has not been fully theorized, and attempts to empower students within 
the classroom under current theories of critical pedagogy have produced mixed results" 
(110). Critical pedagogy, that is, still stands at a theoretical and practical crossroads in 
composition studies. 

Being Critical of Critical Pedagogies: Expanding the Disciplinary 

Along time ago, rock was about rebellion — subverting the conventions and restrictions of 
repressive mainstream culture. But in an era of ludicrously violent television and video 
games, sexually explicit films, and an American president whose sexual exploits are the 
sort we might have expected from a rock star, there 's not a whole lot of convention left to 
subvert. What we 're left with is belligerence. 

— Alona Wartofsky, The Washington Post 

Resistance, subversion, emancipation, liberation — these are only a few of the 

buzzwords that teachers and theorists of critical pedagogy deploy in order to get a better 


understanding of how students and teachers might react to the various cultural forces that 

construct who they are. A number of compositionists, however, question both the utility 

and ethics of such practices and theories from a variety of different critical positions and 

backgrounds. Some, given Wartofsky's statement above, might well wonder whether 

critical pedagogy can ever be anything more than empty belligerence. In this section I 

would like to explore in some detail the kinds of reactions to critical pedagogy that have 

come about in recent years. 

Many in composition studies have been critical of critical pedagogies because of 

their strong reliance on the works of Paulo Freire. 7 Most, however, do not criticize 

Freire's work per se\ instead, they are suspicious of how Freire is imported into 

composition studies. Some argue, for example, that writing students do not need to be 

liberated because they are not oppressed in the same ways as Freire's students. Some 

contend that critical pedagogy does a disservice to college students because they do want 

to be acculturated by the dominant systems of power. Others suggest that American 

students are already so acculturated by the time they reach college that they will actually 

resist any questioning or criticisms of mainstream cultures and values which they already 

embrace fully and faithfully. In "The Arts of Complicity: Pragmatism and the Culture of 

Schooling," Richard Miller explains such criticisms: 

Freire . . . wasn't concerned with teaching first-year college students the 
nuances of academic prose or the virtues of the expository essay. His 
work was with illiterate peasants who were struggling to combat their 
government's oppressive policies. ... It would be foolish to equate the 
challenges Freire has confronted in the field or the oppressive situations 
that interest [James] Scott with the challenges we face teaching 
composition in the academy: we teach those who have already found their 
way into the system, those who wish, at some level, to gain access to the 
material benefits that higher education is said to promise. (18) 


Scholars such as Miller argue that an oppressive and often violent government in Brazil 

cannot be used effectively as a cross-cultural perspective in which to examine the 

institutional powers and forces that affect students in American composition courses. 

Furthermore, those who critique versions of Freire in the American classroom also 

suggest that students who are not members of a group that has been specifically 

oppressed and marginalized have educational needs that are actually opposed to the goals 

of liberatory learning. 

Miller also contends that critical pedagogy attempts to hide the power relations 

that exist within a classroom and that critical educators construct a false binary between 

false and authentic consciousness — he questions the notion that critical pedagogy can 

actually facilitate in students an authentic consciousness that "resists." Miller suggests 

that as teachers we will never know if the work students complete is authentic or if they 

have ever attained a level of true consciousness. Composition teachers, this is to say, 

have done a good job kidding themselves about the effects of critical pedagogies. Miller 


however tempting it may be to describe our work as teachers as being 
pursued in the interests of "liberation" or "consciousness-raising" or 
"resistance," the truth is that this rhetoric's appeal is so attractive because 
it covers over our more primary role as functionaries of the 
administration's educational arm. In the right setting, we can forget that 
we are the individuals vested with the responsibility for soliciting and 
assessing student work; we can imagine that power has left the room . . . 
we can convince ourselves to accept whatever gets said at face value. The 
students, however, never forget where they are, no matter how carefully 
we arrange the desks in the classroom, how casually we dress, how open 
we are to disagreement, how politely we respond to their journal entries, 
their papers, their portfolios. The don't forget; we often do. ("Arts" 18) 

Rather than unveiling the relations of power in the academy, Miller believes that critical 

pedagogy actually attempts to bring down one more veil upon the eyes of students, who, 


however, do not get blinded. That is, students never entirely believe that the power 
dynamic between students and teachers is erased — under any conditions. 

Miller, furthermore, addresses the ways that Freirean pedagogies attempt to bring 
students to a true consciousness, the ways that students are led to think: "He [Freire] 
doesn't linger over the fact that all this self-motivated thinking leads his students to think 
exactly what he would like them to think; he doesn't imagine that, possibly, his students 
are mouthing his pieties, silently collaborating in the production of the desired public 
transcript and then sneaking back home where they are free to question his lessons or 
force others to accept them or forget them altogether" ("Arts" 19). Miller questions 
whether the classroom can actually function as a space of "authentic" engagement 
between students and teachers and whether students can actually develop a resistant 
consciousness to the dominant ideologies that they already accept and want to be 
immersed in. Most importantly, however, Miller wonders whether the introduction of 
critical pedagogy in writing classrooms is nothing more than another form of oppression 
in which students are almost forced to accept the "leftist" worldview of the teacher. 
Miller and other such critics, in short, see a type of pedagogic violence taking place in 
critical and liberatory learning, a violence in which teachers push their own political 
agendas upon students who only wish to achieve high grades and material success. 
Writing in these scenarios then becomes product- rather than process-centered. In other 
words, the teacher has pushed already-planned outcomes for the responses and 
conclusions students come to in their written work. 

In another critique of current critical pedagogies and resistance theories, Susan 
Welsh argues that they too simply categorize and reduce the meanings of student lives. 


She explains, "Using language that often implicates students' lives, resistance theorists 
grant political force and 'legitimate' status to 'nonreproductive moments' of critical 
consciousness. Legitimate opposition to subordination should reproduce neither 
dominant nor contradictory consciousness. Since the early work of Henry Giroux, 
resistance theory has developed into a therapy for illegitimate subjects, but the 
therapeutic model evades the complexity of students' . . . position in culture" (554). 
Welsh's defines a "contradictory consciousness" as the "historical and discursive 
specificity of past struggle for affiliation and the present struggle to reinterpret and 
affiliate under new perception" (570). This consciousness is not "therapeutic"; that is, 
Welsh's idea about a "contradictory consciousness" does not involve an expert teacher 
whose purpose is to reform an uncritical student who otherwise willingly accepts the 
cultural and political forces of manipulation. Welsh sees these other kinds of critical 
pedagogies and theories as types of "conversion narratives" in which students are forced 
to "see the light." Instead, acknowledging the contradictory consciousness in students 
"finds ways to evoke and honor the always complex texture of consciousness, which 
cannot be represented adequately, in moments of writing, as a collapse into the status 
quo, an achievement of liberation, or an effect of the present moment of learning" (570). 
Critical pedagogies, as they have been devised so far by scholars such as Freire, Berlin, 
and Giroux, according to Welsh, cannot simply recognize in student writing the exact 
moments of resistance, liberation, or acculturation. Instead, Welsh relies on a "pedagogy 
of the unknowable," which "accepts the impasse of understanding, the intransigence of 
some contradictions, and the productivity of efforts to make them visible" (170). This 
"pedagogy of the unknowable," furthermore, works in some ways toward a goal of 


liberation, but it works with "contradiction, partial disclosures, and partial knowledges to 

develop 'interdependency' between knowers. . . . [It] takes no single point of view on 

liberation. It cooperates with, not against, the power of historical locations and social 

experiences already present in the life of each student" (562). In addition, it rejects any 

attempts to reduce a student's inclusion in complex and varied networks of power to a 

single, a priori narrative. 

Welsh, in addition, believes that the literature of critical pedagogy in composition 

studies is problematic in that it "shows a tension between recognizing the complexity of 

the constraints upon emancipatory consciousness and reducing that complexity to a 

product to be analyzed, classified, and purified" (556). She continues by suggesting that 

critical pedagogy is troubling because it is 

persistently hierarchical thinking that . . . ranks resistance through a 
classification into types, with the types riding upon deficit judgments; the 
subaltern resister most often lacks something that "we" have. . . . 
Resistance theory commits teachers to hierarchical determinations of the 
distance the learners have traveled beyond the status quo and beyond the 
compromise of contradictory consciousness. (556) 

Criticism of the idea that the student lacks something that we as compositionists possess 

is an idea consistent with the rest of my project, my focus on the ways that 

compositionists posit students in positions of powerlessness without first looking more 

closely at the positions they already occupy, the ways in which students already are 

empowered and have certain kinds of authority. At this point I would like to begin 

discussing what I see as a new way to start thinking about critical pedagogy, a 

conversation that invokes both the supporters and detractors of critical pedagogy in order 

to look more closely at, as Welsh also suggests, "the complexity of student writers" — in 


particular, the complexity of student writers that exists once we consider critical 
pedagogy in relation to youth, as I have already begun to theorize in previous chapters. 

The Other College Transcripts: Youth and the Dialectics of Domination 

It 's all about mainstreaming the campus, turning it into another puppy mill. We might 

fight it, but unfortunately, that 's where things are headed. 

— Kristin Wartman, editor of the student newspaper at UC-Santa Cruz, 
commenting on the university 's decision to abandon the 35-year 
practice of assigning no letter grades (to be implemented in the 
2001 school year) 

Resistance is always present — that is, if domination is present then so is 

resistance. Michel Foucault suggests this in his The History of Sexuality, Volume I when 

he states that "Where there is power, there is resistance, and yet, or rather consequently, 

this resistance is never in a position of exteriority in relation to power" (95). James C. 

Scott furthers this idea in Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts 

when he theorizes and documents both "public transcripts" and "hidden transcripts." He 


With rare, but significant, exceptions the public performance of the 
subordinate will, out of prudence, fear, and the desire to curry favor, be 
shaped to appeal to the expectations of the powerful. I shall use the term 
public transcript as a shorthand way of describing the open interaction 
between subordinates and those who dominate. The public transcript, 
where it is not positively misleading, is unlikely to tell the whole story 
about power relations. ... I shall use the term hidden transcript to 
characterize discourse that takes place "offstage," beyond the direct 
observation by powerholders. The hidden transcript is thus derivative in 
the sense that it consists of those offstage speeches, gestures, and practices 
that confirm, contradict, or inflect what appears in the public transcript. 

This understanding of hidden transcripts re-examines resistance as inevitable in the face 

of any form of domination. Therefore, one must relinquish the insistence that hegemonic 

forces oppress people and construct them entirely without their awareness. Scott refers to 


a narrow definition of hegemony as "the implicit assumption that ideological 
incorporation of subordinate groups will necessarily diminish social conflict" (77). For 
Scott, in other words, hegemony does not exist as a kind of complete ideological control 
over people — forces so strong that people have no idea they are being controlled. He 
contends that all social action involves the performances of both public and hidden 
transcripts, and in doing so, he debunks the idea that a false consciousness exists within 
the oppressed. 8 

Scott, instead, relocates false consciousness in the dominant, in those who are the 
"oppressors." He believes that it is "more accurate to consider subordinate classes less 
constrained at the level of thought and ideology, since they can in secluded settings speak 
with comparative safety, and more constrained at the level of political action and 
struggle, where the daily exercise of power sharply limits the options available to them" 
(91). In this kind of reversal, Scott argues that the more one becomes embedded in the 
dominant classes and the more one believes in the dominant values and ideologies, then 
the more he or she is restricted to those spaces — those public transcripts — and the more 
he or she must always be "on stage." On the other hand, the more one is subordinate to 
the dominant values and classes, the more he or she is able to resist those values and 
ideologies because he or she is more often "offstage," able to envision other social 
arrangements in the hidden transcripts. Because most analyses of power center on public 
transcripts, according to Scott, we have come to believe that the "oppressed" and 
"dominated" willingly and unknowingly take part in the systems that seek to facilitate 
their subordination. That is, focusing almost exclusively on public transcripts rather than 
hidden transcripts has allowed many of us to believe, like Freire, that the oppressed 


merely resign themselves to their conditions, accept it as their fate, and accept the values 
of dominant ideologies. The presence of public transcripts, however, automatically 
manifests the absence, yet existence, of hidden transcripts. Any attempt to dominate 
dialectically calls forth some form of resistance, even if these forms of resistance are not 
seen: "The most obvious reasons why ideological incorporation [hegemony] should find 
such resonance in the historical record is simply that domination, as we have seen, 
produces an official transcript that provides convincing evidence of willing, even 
enthusiastic complicity" (Scott 86). In most cases, a subordinate has a vested interest in 
not displaying his or her discontent — his or her hidden transcript. The public transcript, 
in short, is not the "whole story." 

Scott's ideas about domination in the public transcript and resistance in the hidden 
transcript allow us in composition studies to re-envision the place and function of 
resistance theories and pedagogies for the writing classroom: debates about resistance, 
then, should not center on whether and if we should teach resistance but how we can 
harness its (always present) existence and power in productive and useful ways. 9 Henry 
Giroux notes, "Caught between representations that view them as either slackers, 
consumers, criminals, or sell outs, youth increasingly are defined through the lens of 
commodification, scorn, or criminality. If not demonized, youth are either commodified 
or constructed as consuming subjects" ("Where" 193). Youth, as Giroux and others have 
mentioned so far, may be defined by their cultural discourses and spaces, but youth is 
most often defined by the dominant powers in the "public transcripts," defined and 
constructed mainly as those who are inexperienced novices, beginners, and empty and 


passive vessels as well as subjects who "lack" and have little if anything of value to speak 

and write. Similarly, Richard Miller argues, 

it is a mistake to think that subordinates have been so thoroughly 
colonized that they cannot conceive of or desire a better world. It is more 
accurate to say that they have no access to the channels of social power 
that might bring this better world into being. ... we might say that it is not 
that students have been so mystified by the Ideological State Apparatus of 
higher education that they can't see or understand how the system has 
been designed to deprive them of a sense of individual autonomy. It is, 
rather, that they are powerless to change the system and know only too 
well its ability to punish them for not complying with its demands. So 
they do what is required of them, slipping in enough of the hidden 
transcript to preserve their sense of self-respect: they write papers that 
lifelessly respond to the assignment; they contradict themselves, saying 
what they want to say and what they think the teacher wants them to say at 
the same time; they public announce their interest in the work at hand 
while manifesting no visible sign that their interest requires anything from 
them. They hunker down and try to get by. ("Arts" 17-18) 

In this almost psychological portrait of writing students, Miller makes a number of 

important statements about the ways that these students are embedded in institutional 

power relations. He is quick to note, however, that he is not trying to draw strict parallels 

between American college students as subordinates and the slaves, serfs, and prisoners — 

open to the threat of physical violence — to which Scott often refers. Miller, like myself, 

is merely interested in showing how students of writing are often subordinate in academic 

institutions and classrooms and how they produce certain kinds of hidden transcripts. 10 

Those who teach rhetoric and composition, then, might imagine ways that the writing 

classroom can become a space where "hidden transcripts" flourish, a space where young 

people and teachers alike can examine the powers and potentials of young people who 

produce hidden transcripts. This line of thought responds to the ways that critical 

pedagogy often attempts to shift the consciousness of students and encourages them to 

shed all associations with these (youth) cultures that willingly and complicitly accept 


dominant and oppressive values and systems. In other words, composition teachers and 

theorists might begin to consider how resistance is a given in students' everyday lives 

rather than assume that resistance is a pedagogical goal that must somehow be taught and 

aroused in students who are simply and naively acculturated within dominant systems of 


In his essay "Public Pedagogy and the Responsibility of Intellectuals: Youth, 

Littleton, and the Loss of Innocence," Henry Giroux remarks, "To address the problems 

of youth, rigorous educational work must respond to the dilemmas of the outside world 

by focusing on how young people make sense of their possibilities for agency within the 

power-regulated relations of everyday life" (32). Cultural theorists such as Dick Hebdige 

have attempted already to examine how youth (sub)cultures make sense of their 

possibilities for agency, and his ethnographic findings are, to some degree, similar to 

those of James Scott. Hebdige writes, "we are interested in subculture — in the expressive 

forms and rituals of those subordinate groups — the teddy boys and mods and rockers, the 

skinheads and the punks — who are alternately dismissed, denounced, and canonized; 

treated at different times as threats to the public order and as harmless buffoons" (2). 

Hebdige continues, 

The challenge to hegemony which subcultures represent is not issued 
directly by them. Rather it is expressed obliquely, in style. The objections 
are lodged, the contradictions displayed ... at the profoundly superficial 

level of appearances: that is, at the level of signs to the safety pins and 

tubes of Vaseline, we can see that such commodities are indeed open to a 
double inflection: to "illegitimate" as well as "legitimate" uses. These 
"humble objects" can be magically appropriated; "stolen" by subordinate 
groups and made to carry "secret" meanings: meanings which express, in 
code, a form of resistance to the order which guarantees their continued 
subordination. (17-18) 


Hebdige, in short, sees types of hidden transcripts in the styles of certain groups of British 
youth — mainly working-class youth — and he theorizes how these youths challenge 
hegemonic orders with these styles. Hebdige's analyses of British youth helped set the 
trend for cultural analyses of youth and his work still has much resonance today; this 
focus on the visual elements of style, however, neglect to offer any understandings of the 
ways that young people can produce other hidden transcripts, those that are not attached 
to aspects of their physical appearances. 

Susan Welsh, as I noted earlier, makes a call for critical pedagogies that do not 
evade the complexities of student lives. Many teachers and scholars in rhetoric and 
composition studies, however, have accepted critical and radical pedagogies that suggest 
vaguely that it is the task of compositionists to point out all of the oppressive discourses 
and powers that function in students lives — that their job is to facilitate resistance and 
liberate students from such dominant forces. These sorts of pedagogies — whatever good 
intentions they may possess — only present for teachers and students an unclear and 
abstract view of cultural powers and forces. That is, they imply that all students are 
subject to the exact same dominant forces and values and are affected by them similarly. 
Welsh writes, "Resistance theory posits an expert teacher/analyst, whose aim is to reform 
predictably uncritical students/clients who are about to enter into legitimate social 

critique Conceptualizing students as cultural or discursive 'effects' makes critique 

'our' privilege and transformation 'their' need" (561). A number of texts in composition 
studies, for instance, demonstrate this "privilege/need" binary that Welsh criticizes, texts 
which assume that compositionists themselves have access to the cultural codes — public 
and hidden — and that they can merely impart knowledge of these manipulations and evils 


to students. James Berlin suggests, for example, that "It is our hope that students who 
can demystify the cultural codes they encounter will be motivated to begin the reshaping 
of subjectivities and society. We are, in a sense, in a war of position rather than a war of 
maneuver . . . hoping to encourage resisting, negotiating subjects within positions of 
power in the dominant culture" ("Composition" 50). What Berlin and others neglect, and 
what Welsh helps us see, is that youth cultures already own certain transcripts, both 
public and private, that we as composition teachers and scholars have little or no access 
to, and that we cannot comprehend them all because they are, in some cases, reactions to 
us as teachers. 

Berlin's and others' theoretical and pedagogical ideas neglect the hidden 
transcripts. However, the notion that hidden transcripts exists — many times out of our 
sight as teachers — does not allow us very easily to conceive of ways to facilitate their 
use. Thus, this essay can in no way lay out a particular pedagogical approach in the 
composition classroom that makes possible the proper use of public and hidden 
transcripts inside and outside the classroom. There will, however, always be a certain 
(unseen) balance between the two, and the ways we might offer students help to cultivate 
these hidden transcripts more thoroughly is an important task ahead, particularly since 
public and hidden transcripts are not always separate: "a partly sanitized, ambiguous, 
and coded version of the hidden transcript is always present in the public discourse of 
subordinated groups" (Scott 19). Hidden transcripts do make up some of Berlin's 
"competing discourses," but Berlin and others fail to consider them, fail to take into 
account the agency that students possess because of these hidden transcripts. In such an 
attempt to "liberate" students from "hegemonic" discourses, the liberator has once again 


ignored those sites of agency that the subordinate already possesses — once again 

constructed a collective "we" in his or her own terms, thus reinforcing domination that he 

or she sought to escape. Hidden transcripts — these hidden forms of resistance — do not 

have to provide immediate, visual evidence of their existence in order to have meaning. 

And, student texts can be valuable in their own right, for what they signify to the students 

and do not signify to the teacher, without circulating through the hands and eyes of 

numerous others; this value of hidden transcripts is particularly important if one of the 

goals of critical pedagogy is to invoke in students a critical perspective of the world. The 

more a text circulates, consequently, the more it is aligned with a public transcript, and 

the less it has absorbed those aspects of youth culture that public transcripts have sought 

to subordinate in the first place. 

These theories of the public and hidden transcripts, furthermore, have great 

implications for the public pedagogies I have discussed in this essay. First, as I discussed 

in chapter four, if composition teachers want their students to write toward public 

spheres — whether in form of service learning or publication — they will have to 

understand that they are neglecting other sides of these writing endeavors, those spaces 

where the hidden transcripts exist. That is, if students publish their writings or produce 

essays while they work in government agencies and offices, they are producing written 

discourse (public transcripts) that will most likely have to concur with the dominant 

powers at hand. Scott suggests that 

The public transcript is, to put it crudely, the self-portrait of dominant 
elites as they would have themselves seen. Given the usual power of 
dominant elites to compel performances of others, the discourse of the 
public transcript is a decidedly lopsided discussion. While it is unlikely to 
be merely a skein of lies and misrepresentations, it is, on the other hand, a 
highly partisan and partial narrative. It is designed to be impressive, to 


affirm and naturalize the power of dominant elites, and to conceal or 
euphemize the dirty linen of their rule. ( 1 8) 

In some regard, then, composition teachers and scholars might never get away from their 

students' writings as public transcripts, no matter how public or private they envision 

their classrooms. Regardless of who the audience is, students receive grades and, 

therefore, they will most likely write essays designed "to be impressive, to affirm and 

naturalize the power of dominant elites." Thus, compositionists must imagine 

themselves, in some sense, as Scott's "dominant" figures, and resign themselves to the 

fact that some hidden transcripts will never become visible to us because "We can only 

begin to measure the influence of a teacher's presence on a classroom of students once he 

or she leaves the room" (Scott 25). The classroom itself, then, is a kind of public 

transcript, one which will never reveal all of the hidden resistances our students have 

fostered against us, our assignments, our texts, and the academy in general. However, 

those of us in composition can provide students with the opportunities to explore more 

deeply their own hidden transcripts; whether we have access to these is of less 

consequence than the fact that they do exist and may play a significant role in our 

students' lived experiences. 

Instructors and theorists of writing may never be able to predict, view, and 

understand all of the hidden transcripts that students construct in response to the 

numerous types of domination that affect them. However, compositionists might at least 

begin to rest assured that students — particularly as young people — are familiar with and 

engaged in various forms of resistance, that it is not the sole responsibility of the teacher 

to show students what resistance is and how to evoke it. Students are certainly already 

well aware and should be posed already to engage, to some degree, the projects of critical 


pedagogy. Radical and critical pedagogies, though, tend to falter in their universalizing 

scope, their attempts to formulate a fixed set of liberatory practices. Joe Hardin 

maintains, "if scholars and teachers of critical literacy and resistance pedagogy are to 

develop a discourse that is more than simply oppositional to the discourse of 

acculturation and service, they must somehow abandon their attachment to universal 

ideas of emancipation" (110). Such a move, Hardin continues, 

would allow scholars and teachers of critical literacy and resistance 
pedagogy to join with students and with the academy in working toward a 
universalized horizon of social unity whose content is always deferred and 
whose identity is always constructed anew in each hegemonic context. . . . 
critical teachers might learn to allow a new set of universals to arise from 
each set of particular circumstances in the classroom, to resist fixing static 
ideas of critique and resistance into a discourse of emancipation, and to 
resist the idea that their theories and practices must always be constructed 
in opposition to the acculturative forces of higher education. (110) 

Hardin's critique of the discourses of "universal emancipation" leads him to consider the 

ways compositionists should help students create hybridized discourses in order to 

engage the various and discrete dominant powers they will come in contact with. That is, 

Hardin suggests, "Each . . . intervention into discourse presences a new voice in the 

political din and forges a new hybrid text that rearticulates rhetoric in a new political 

space" (1 1 1). Critical teachers, this is to say, should not attempt to replace contradiction 

with "unity," "authenticity," and "universal goals" for liberation. 

The status of critical pedagogy and literacy, as I mentioned earlier, are at best 

problematic, shaky, and uncertain at this moment in composition studies. Critical 

teachers attempt to facilitate in students a resistance to hegemony in the form of certain 

cultural, social, political, economic, and academic discourses. Students, on the other 

hand, are often resistant to these attempts at resistance, harboring hidden transcripts 


against various forms of domination, which they see in both writing instructors, 
pedagogies, and a larger society. Thus, concerns about resistance in composition studies, 
as I have tried to point out in this chapter, really boil down to questions such as these: 
Who resists whom? How? Why? In what contexts? In what medium? And what real 
effects is all this resistance achieving? Does resistance really work? For whom? I can by 
no means answer these questions and attempting to do so would only prove to be a 
meager attempt to codify a pedagogical and theoretical concept within a specific 
discipline that, in reality, defies all attempts at codification. Furthermore, such an 
attempt would also universalize and deny the local and specific contexts in which 
resistance combats hegemony. 

Writing Composition Studies: A Final Look at the Construction of the 
Student Writer 

We 're not measuring creative writing. . . . Instead, we are assessing organized thoughts 
through writing on very specific topics. . . . These things can be scored by a computer. 

— Frederic McHale, describing a new Educational Testing Sei-vice plan to grade 
writing samples by computer 

The above epigraph manifests the importance of scholarship in composition 

studies that attempts to resist certain institutional understandings of writing and the 

teaching of writing. That we should continue theorizing and teaching forms of resistance 

is certainly not under question at this juncture. I am not interested at this point — nor do I 

see the efficacy — in looking any further at how resistance theory may play out in 

pedagogical scenarios nor am I impelled to provide another theoretical blueprint through 

which compositionists might re-theorize the function of resistance for students and 

themselves. Resistance no doubt needs to be developed within specific hegemonic 


situations and contexts. Instead, at this moment, I am more interested in the ways that 

compositionists have used critical pedagogies and theories and what these kinds of 

projects say about composition studies in general and students and teachers of writing in 


C. Mark Hurlbert and Michael Blitz have pointed out that composition teachers 

and scholars who promote critical pedagogies and theories might be putting themselves in 

a dangerous position: 

Writing teachers committed to encouraging critical consciousness and 
action are in the potentially dangerous and endangering role of teaching 
people to challenge an institution's "mission." This is the kind of whistle- 
blowing that might very well bring about economic and social hardship 
among those who attempt it. In other words, the commitment involved in 
a critical education extends far beyond a writing or literature pedagogy 
and entails very real risks in public life. ("Uncomfortable" 43-44) 

Critical compositionists have worried that their practices which ask students to examine 

the ways that cultural values and powers are articulated in discourse and that attempts to 

have students try to intervene in these processes may come to haunt them. They have 

feared, this is to say, that these sorts of critical projects and pedagogies will further 

marginalize them and their students in academic institutions that already marginalize 

composition studies and writing courses. Critical teachers of composition, then, see 

themselves to a large degree not only as instructors of resistance but themselves resistors 

within an institutional system that wants them to comply to the dominant values. What 

theorists and teachers of writing might begin to consider and ask more questions about, 

however, is why and how critical pedagogy appeals to us. Are composition instructors 

somehow in a better position to function like Lisa and Bart Simpson, inclined to project a 

genuine concern for people and a bit or hucksterism in order to accomplish something? 


Richard Miller asks similar questions about the draw that compositionists have 

felt toward critical pedagogies (I quote him at length): 

what puzzles me is why this vision of teaching and the rhetoric that 
surrounds it should appeal to teachers, particularly teachers of reading and 
writing. Why, as a profession, would we be drawn to an approach that 
depicts professionals in such a negative light? Is it the institutionally 
marginalized position of composition instruction that allows us to see 
ourselves as beyond the reach of Freire's critique? Do we imagine 
ourselves as somehow outside the very system that employs us to instruct 
entering students in the language arts? Is there something about literacy 
work that makes its practitioners immune to the desires for advancement 
upon which hierarchical systems depend? Or is this just a story teachers 
like to tell themselves about themselves — a way to make it from semester 
to semester that preserves the teacher's sense of self-esteem? And, thus, is 
the appeal of the image of teacher as liberator itself proof that liberatory 
teachers are, in fact, filled with the very false consciousness that they've 
determined to eradicate in others? ( 1 5) 

Miller asks a number of important and perplexing questions, and I will not pretend to 

answer them all. These sorts of questions, however, begin to face composition studies in 

the right direction. Rather than asking how true resistance can be achieved, they inquire 

about the larger reasons why and how critical pedagogies persist in composition studies 

and what they not only do for and to students but also what they say about us as 

compositionists — people who spend a great deal of time facilitating these theories and 

pedagogies. Moreover, I see in Miller's cogent and timely questions an inquiry into the 

networks of power and processes that operate upon composition studies — not simply in 

terms of who is oppressed by whom and to what degree but the way that compositionists 

try to position themselves and the discipline of composition studies within relations of 

power in order to effect a certain disciplinary status. In other words, we in the field 

might look at how not only students but also compositionists are really empowered by 

critical and liberatory pedagogies. 


This entire project has argued from the beginning that compositionists and 
composition studies — both its pedagogies and theories — cannot escape their attachment 
to students, that the student writer is the vehicle through which composition studies not 
only produces it knowledges but establishes its academic identities. Many forms of 
critical pedagogy and literacy, as I and others have suggested, posit the student in the 
position of a passive and uncritical acceptor of hegemonic powers. My analyses of 
public and hidden transcripts sought to debunk this construction of the student writer. 
However, these kinds of constructions serve composition studies in a number of other 
important ways: they suggest to those in composition studies and elsewhere that there is 
legitimate work to be done that extends beyond the service ethos of the discipline, that 
these uncritical individuals need more than "skills and drills" writing instruction. The 
institutional status of composition studies is precarious at best — maligned and 
misunderstood in many cases. Thus, critical pedagogies and concepts of resistance that 
target academic discourse, in particular, begin with a number of positive goals for 
liberation and emancipation, but these projects prepare students to produce work that 
resists a system that itself marginalizes composition studies. Therefore, compositionists 
should question further the politics of such projects, the ways that critical pedagogies 
function to improve the status not only of students and other marginalized groups and 
individuals but of composition studies in general. If composition studies can abrogate the 
student writer/author binary, therein helping students achieve the status of "'author," in 
what ways, then, is the situation of composition studies changed? This is not to suggest 
that compositionists sit around devising underhanded plans to use and manipulate 
students for their own benefits — and the benefits of the discipline in general. However, 


the effects of these projects — intended or not — need to be discussed; that is, the status 
and identity of composition studies is changed and affected by the kinds of work — 
written or not — that students produce when they engage in critical projects and public 

This dissertation has argued throughout that students affect composition studies as 
much as, if not more than, compositionists themselves (which I took up in greater detail 
in chapter three). And because of this, composition teachers and scholars need to 
investigate the greater complexity of student writers than has been done so already, 
particularly the discourses and cultures students already are involved in when they enter 
the classroom, as well as the kinds of authority and power they already possess. 
Resistance theories and critical pedagogies tend to negate these things, formulating a 
version of students as inert, vacant, naive, gullible, and innocent. Composition studies, 
perhaps unknowing and unintentionally, attempts to effect its own institutional positions 
and status and to serve its own ends by deciding for students their cultural, political, and 
ideological positions. Sharon Crowley declares, "composition teachers have still not 
begun to account satisfactorily for our own and our students' location in physical and 
ideological space" (22 1 ). We in composition studies should not be concerned so much 
about whether our attempt to account for these locations are "satisfactory" but whether 
our attempts have actually been able to locate students' various cultural and discursive 
positions at all or whether we have constructed those positions for them in the first place 
in order to write and build our own versions of disciplinary meaning and identity. In 
what ways, we might begin to ask, have compositionists considered the processes that 


construct this ever-changing discipline and in what ways have compositionists considered 
only their own recognizable processes. 


1 For works that take up in greater detail the variety of meanings of resistance in 
composition studies, see C. Mark Hurlbert and Michael Blitz, eds., Composition & 
Resistance (Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 1991). Joe Marshall Hardin, Opening 
Spaces: Critical Pedagogy and Resistance Theory in Composition (Albany: State 
University of New York P, 2001). And Andrea Greenbaum, ed., Insurrections: 
Approaches to Resistance in Composition Studies (Albany: State U of New York P, 

2 Although this essay cannot encompass all the areas from which resistance theories in 
composition studies derive, it is important to note that these theories have a strong 
connection with psychology that examines the structure of the personality. In particular, 
for a study of the connections between Jacques Lacan's psychoanalytic dynamic of 
transference and critical pedagogy, see Patrick McGee, "Truth and Resistance: Teaching 
as a Form of Analysis," College English 49 (1987): 667-78. And Ann Murphy, 
"Transference and Resistance in the Basic Writing Classroom: Problematics and Praxis," 
College Composition and Communication 40 (1989): 175-88. 

3 For a more detailed discussion of critical pedagogy, see James Berlin, "Rhetoric and 
Ideology in the Writing Class." College English 50 (1988): 477-94. C.H. Knoblauch, 
"Critical Teaching and Dominant Culture," Composition & Resistance. Eds. C. Mark 
Hurlbert and Michael Blitz (Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 1991. 12-21.) And Judith 
Goleman, Working Theoty: Critical Composition Studies for Students and Teachers 
(Westport: Bergin, 1995). 

4 See Tom Fox, "Race and Collective Resistance," Insurrections: Approaches to 
Resistance in Composition Studies, Ed. Andrea Greenbaum (Albany: SUNY P, 2001. 71- 
86). Terry Dean, "Multicultural Classrooms, Monocultural Teachers," College 
Composition and Communication 40 (1989): 32-37. And Min-Zhan Lu, "Conflict and 
Struggle: The Enemies and Preconditions of Basic Writing," College English 54 (1992): 
887-913. For a study of race, academic discourse, and counter-resistance, see 
Christopher J. Keller, "The Ecology of Writerly Voice: Authorship, Ethos, and Persona," 
Ecocomposition: Theoretical and Pedagogical Approaches, Eds. Christian R. Weisser 
and Sidney I. Dobrin (Albany: State U of New York P, 2001 . 193-208). 

5 See Elizabeth Flynn, "Composing as a Woman," College Composition and 
Communication 39 (1988): 423-35. Susan Jarratt, "Feminism and Composition: The 
Case for Conflict," Contending with Words: Composition and Rhetoric in a Postmodern 
Age, Eds. Patricia Harkin and John Schilb (New York: MLA, 1991. 105-24). Carmen 


Luke and Jennifer Gore, Eds. Feminisms and Critical Pedagogy (New York: Routledge, 
1998.) And Elizabeth Ellsworth, "Why Doesn't This Feel Empowering? Working 
Through the Repressive Myths of Critical Pedagogy," Harvard Educational Review 59 
(1989): 297-324. 

6 See two of Ira Shor's works, Empowering Education: Critical Teaching for Social 
Change (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1992) and When Students Have Power: Negotiating 
Authority in a Critical Pedagogy (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1996). 

7 Other works that discuss in detail the ways that Freire has been imported into the 
classroom are the following: Ira Shor, ed., Freire for the Classroom: A Sourcebook for 
Liberatoty Teaching (Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 1987). Peter Elbow, "Pedagogy 
of the Bamboozled," Embracing Contraries (New York: Oxford UP, 1986. 85-98). bell 
hooks, Teaching to Transgress (New York: Routledge, 1994). Eleanor Kutz and 
Hephzibah Roskelly, An Unquiet Pedagogy: Transforming Practice in the English 
Classroom (Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 1991). Maria-Regina Kecht, ed., Pedagogy 
is Politics: Literary Theory and Critical Teaching (Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1 992). 

8 Scott also discusses forms of symbolic and non-symbolic resistance — as well as 
individual and collective resistance — in the contexts of class struggle and ideological 
domination in another text: Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance 
(New Haven: Yale UP, 1985). 

9 In his book Acts of Resistance: Against the Tyranny of the Market (New York: The 
New P, 1998), Pierre Bourdieu provides a number of examples of "strategic resistance," 
in which he hopes his essays will provide "useful weapons to all those who are striving to 
resist the scourge of neo-liberalism" (vii). In particular, Bourdieu argues that writing and 
intellectual life can provide effective forms of resistance. In classroom pedagogies, 
teachers often attempt to make students aware of dominant ideologies and urge them to 
take action against them. These form of strategic resistance, like those in critical and 
radical pedagogies, are meant to be deliberate and conscious. Particular problems are 
meant to be identified and specific action is supposed to be taken against them. For more 
on this, see Elizabeth Flynn, "Strategic, Counter-strategic, and Reactive Resistance in the 
Feminist Classroom," Insurrections: Approaches to Resistance in Composition Studies, 
Ed. Andrea Greenbaum (Albany: State U of New York P, 2001. 17-34). 

10 This holds many parallels with my discussion in chapter two of Robert Brooke's 
notion of underlife from his essay "Student Underlife and Writing Instruction." On 
Writing Research: The Braddock Essays, 1975-1998 (New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 
1999. 229-41). 


"Look, sir. Don 't worry about me, " I said. "I mean it. I 'II be all right. I 'mjust 
going through a phase right now. Everybody goes through phases, don 't they? " 

"I don 't know, boy. I don 't know. " 
— J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye 

This project has been about pieces of a puzzle that have been unscrambled, pieces that 
cannot, however, be put back together in entirety, pieces that perhaps never formed a 
whole to begin with. Using anthropologist Adam Kuper's notions of cultural pieces and 
processes, I have sought to look at composition studies in light of its various parts, 
portions, or slices as they are taken out of their usual contexts, this in order to look at the 
new contexts and processes by which we in the discipline might better understand them. 
Because there is no way to add up all the pieces into a cumulative whole, I decided to 
focus in particular on the ways that student writers are formed and informed in public 
pedagogies and in critical pedagogies, especially. In order to examine such components 
in the discipline of composition studies — and how they are always in flux — I hoped to 
show how we in the field might begin to consider a new "flow of knowledges" for 
composition, the ways that the discipline can open itself up to new and productive lines 



of thought. This, I argued, should come about mainly by making more complex the 
figure of the student writer, by focusing in particular on the positions of authority and 
empowerment students already hold as well as the kinds of discourses they are engaged 
in outside of composition studies' accepted beliefs, practices, and knowledges. This, in 
short, not only required scattering the pieces of composition studies to the four winds but 
also to bring in new pieces such as youth cultures and youth discourses — thus making 
sure that the puzzle not only is never completed but that its design and size always 
changes as well. 

Composition studies, I have contended, is certainly going through a phase — like 
Holden Caulfield above — one in which it is concerned with its status as an academic 
discipline — whether theory or pedagogy should prevail, whether it is on equal footing 
with literature departments, whether it should teach values and ethics or writing skills, 
and whether its students should be considered only "students" or "authors." Such 
questions fit into larger frameworks and problematics about composition studies' power 
and status in the academy in general and compositionists power to shape the discipline in 
particular. This, in short, questions the kinds of status they hold within academic 
departments and larger academic institutions. I certainly have not tried to posit a fixed 
answer to such questions. Doing so would negate my argument that the discipline moves 
and changes as fast as we can think about it and write about it. Instead, I hope to have 
provided a type of methodology that actually exacerbates this high speed of change, one 
that prods those in composition studies to find new connections and relations with 
components, pieces, and processes of composition that have already been examined and 
theorized in the past — some of them already debunked — and new connections that have 


yet to be considered (youth in my case). I do not mean to suggest that composition 
scholars all need to shift their theoretical foci to the study of youth cultures. Certainly 
not. However, I desire instead that we tear down the boundaries of what we consider 
composition studies to be, not so that we might re-build it but so that we might better 
recognize its connections to other disciplinary knowledges and cultural processes and 
components — those that we have forgotten about and those that we have yet to deliberate. 

I do not pretend to be a singular soul in the discipline who posits an all-new or 
revolutionary way of thinking. This is hardly the case. Rather, I think that my 
understanding of the way we might view the pieces of composition studies in relation to 
other pieces — inside and outside composition studies — without trying to build a holistic 
discipline echoes much of the work being done with ecocomposition, which theorizes 
mainly the relationships between discourse and place (See Weisser and Dobrin). 
Ecocomposition, however, thrives on investigating all relationships that help us 
understand the workings of discourse in composition. In addition to reaching out toward 
cultural constructs and pieces that composition studies has been hesitant to embrace — 
such as nature, habitat, environment, activism, and place — ecocomposition has also 
sought links with current ecological theories, those that compositionists have tended to 
shy away from because their connections to the "hard sciences." Where ecocomposition 
takes us and what effects it has on the discipline remain to be seen. However, like the 
work of the numerous anthropologists I discussed — mainly in chapters one and two — the 
work of ecologists will, no doubt, help move composition studies in new directions. This 
is not to suggest that I am trying to foment some sort of theoretical or pedagogical 
insurgency in composition studies. This is certainly not the case, as this project 


demonstrates. Instead, I hope that I have been able to hint at the benefits not so much of 
building on our knowledges but of complicating them, making them more open to 
change, less holistic, less evolutionary, and seen as less under the control of the whims 
and powers of compositionists. Instead I hope we might begin to look more closely at 
how the discipline is also controlled, changed, and constructed by the students we teach 
and theorize as much as by ourselves as experts and professionals in the field. These 
students, more than we can ever imagine, are the ones who play with the puzzle, scatter 
its pieces, and make sure we can never put it together again. 


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Christopher Keller plans to receive his Ph.D. in English with a specialty in 
composition studies from the University of Florida in the summer 2001 . He received a 
master's degree in English with a specialty in medieval literature from Kansas State 
University in spring semester 1997 and a bachelor's degree in English from the 
University of Texas at Austin in summer 1994. Christopher has accepted a tenure-track 
position in the Department of Rhetoric, Language, and Culture at the University of 
Hartford in West Hartford, Connecticut, starting in Fall 2001. There he will teach 
courses in freshman writing, advanced composition, classical rhetoric, and nineteenth- 
and twentieth-century American nature writing. 


I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to 
acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, 
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 

Sidney I DoDrin,Thairman 
AssociatftTrofessor of English 

I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to 
acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, 
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 

rO ' * 

Patricia Craddock 
Professor of English 

I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to 
acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, 
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 


SusanHegeman A 

Associate Professor of English (J 

I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to 
acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, 
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 



Assistant Professor of English 

I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to 
acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, 
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 


Associate Professor of Botany 

This dissertation was submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the Department of 
English in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and to the Graduate School and was 
accepted as partial fulfillment of the requirement for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 

August 2001 

Dean, Graduate School 

■ KSfl 


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